Column: How supreme should the court be?

Jim Rohrer
Posted 9/12/23

In our country, there are three branches of government. We pretend they’re coequal, but in recent years we have relied on the judicial branch to decide most everything.

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Column: How supreme should the court be?


In our country, there are three branches of government. We pretend they’re coequal, but in recent years we have relied on the judicial branch to decide most everything. It seems surprising that this branch has taken the lead in our democracy despite the fact that court members are not elected by the people. Instead, they are appointed by whatever party is in power. Once appointed, the members of the Supreme Court serve lifetime terms. Interestingly, no other country has such terms. It’s uncanny how a few unelected people wield such power.

Over the years, there have been unpopular justices and unpopular courts, but generally, public opinion of the Supreme Court has been high. In the last 20 years, according to Gallup, the approval of the court has been over 50% often 60%. Since 2012 the approval of the court has dropped into the 40s and it is currently at just 40% with 58% of citizens saying they disapprove of how the court is handling its job. You would be correct to point out that citizens also have low approval ratings for presidents and Congress. While that is true, the drop in esteem for the court is more recent, occurring in the last 10 to 12 years.

Many citizens are angry that the court changed America in 2022 as it overturned Roe v Wade, a ruling in place for over 50 years. Some even see the trends of the court as threatening to other personal rights. Others are angry as they saw the court lessen the curbs on guns even as mass shootings become weekly occurrences. On the other hand, conservative supporters of the court’s new super majority cheer the change. Perhaps both sides, if they stopped to think about it, might see that whether it’s the Warren court of the 50s, or the current one, stacking the court with like-minded partisan judges is too much of a culture shock for the country.

Now add the new revelations of Judge Thomas’s questionable financial arrangement with a wealthy business influencer. As other shady details come out, it’s shocking to find out that no ethics standards exist for the high court. Supreme Court justices are exempt from the ethics rules of federal judges. The Supreme Court, it seems, is above the law.

The process by which Justices are appointed has become ludicrous, as names are hatched not from lists of outstanding jurists, but from lists of judges with predictable political leanings. Even the rules around when a judge is appointed are subject to the whim of the Senate leader in charge at that moment. It is hard to watch Senators in the advise and consent process, self-aggrandizing as they torment potential jurors to gain favor with their political base. They are not honestly considering a proposed judge. If the judge was proposed by a president of that Senator’s party, the vote is yes and vice versa.

When asked how a court who has lost public support can recover, Justice Keegan said, “The way the court retains legitimacy and fosters public confidence is by acting like a court by doing the kinds of things that do not seem political or partisan. By not behaving as though we are just people with individual political, policy or social preferences that we are making everyone live with. But instead we are acting like a court doing something that is recognizably law-abiding. That is where we gain our legitimacy. Not because we have better opinions than anybody else. There is no reason why the nine of us should be able to make the rules for democracy.”

I am not taking a position on any court ruling or issue. Honest people can disagree on important issues. I am speaking out against courts, either conservative or liberal, who undertake to change America with court activism. Four changes could help the courts regain public respect.

Establish ethics standards for the Supreme Court and enforce them. Establish 18-year justice terms in which each president makes one appointment every two years eliminating the life terms. Congress should legislate against egregious court decisions like Citizens United not allowing the court to have the last word on errant rulings. Follow Justice Keegan’s advice.

Jim Rohrer of Evergreen is a business consultant and author of the books “Improve Your Bottom Line … Develop MVPs Today” and “Never Lose Your Job … Become a More Valuable Player.” Jim’s belief is that common sense is becoming less common. Contact Jim at

Jim Rohrer, Supreme court, column


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