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Guest editorial: Why your vote counts – a lot

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Posted on October 31, 2016 |
By Haviland Smith



Those of us who are not highly partisan voters are faced this year with a choice between two unusually unattractive candidates. Some of us will take a deep breath, suck it up and vote for the one we believe to be less unattractive. Others say they simply will not vote at all. 

The polls would seem to show that many of those who have made the decision not to vote are younger people who facing their first or second elections. 

Those who plan not to vote are the voters who really need to take a second look. Why? Simple. Because there will be a number of Supreme Court justices appointed by the next president. 

The Constitution gives the Supreme Court the power to overrule, if necessary, the actions of the president and Congress. In that context, the court has ruled in Citizens United that corporations and wealthy individuals may contribute, virtually without limit and at will, to political parties and candidates, in effect diluting the strength of the individual American’s vote. 

Additional Roberts court rulings materially affect our lives in the areas of securities fraud, affirmative action, banking, campaign finance, wiretapping, the loss of personal freedoms, picture IDs for voters, and voting rights. 

Where does the Constitution ban abortions? It bans murder, but does not tell us when abortion slides into murder. The court tells us that. What makes them more competent than medical doctors or ministers? 

There is serious dissent, particularly in the law-enforcement community, about Roberts court decisions on gun rights. The Constitution protects gun ownership as follows: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” In the face of massive annual gun deaths, it’s hard for the vast majority of Americans to understand how that enables the decisions that the Roberts court has made that curtail any and all attempts, not to take handguns or semiautomatics away, but to make gun ownership safer. 

Additionally, against the Jeffersonian dictum of the “separation of church and state,” a phrase accepted by virtually any American who can understand the Constitution, one now sees the current court edging into a practice of favoring one religion over other belief systems in matters of taxation, schools and monuments. 

Where does all of this lead us? It leads to one extraordinarily important fact of American life that is all too often overlooked by voters. When we vote for presidential candidates, we are voting for future Supreme Court justices, almost all of whom, depending on our political and philosophical leanings, will make decisions that will make life either better or more contentious and difficult for large groups of our citizens. 

What it says is that when you cast your vote for president, whether or not you like him or her, you had better be absolutely certain that your candidate shares your values and philosophy. If you truly believe that the Roberts court has improved life for all Americans, vote for a Republican, the more conservative the better. 

Why? Because the president elected in 2016 will appoint up to five new justices. Four of the current members of the court are now over the age of 70. The Scalia seat is already open. 

On the other hand, if you believe that wealthy individuals and organizations should not own either parties or candidates; that women should have control over their bodies; that Americans are often venal, cut legal corners and must be monitored to comply with existing laws; that we are in the process of losing our personal freedoms in the forlorn hope of gaining security; that we need to have background checks for gun purchasers and rule out those who are criminals or insane; that there is no place in the land for those who would underhandedly and illegally curtail anyone’s voting rights; that there should be more equity in the lives of all our citizens and that we need to decrease, not increase, the economic gap between the haves and the have-nots in America, then you need to pay attention to what the candidates are saying right now. 

Your choice for president will be gone in four or eight years, but your vote will change the political posture of the court for decades to come, either for better or for worse. You had better make it count, for it will directly affect you, your children and grandchildren for most of your lives. 

 

   Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Prague, Berlin, Beirut, Tehran and Washington, as executive assistant in the director’s office and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

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