Voting for the Bench
Many interest groups make the point in presidential election years that it's not just a candidate's personal views on issues that matter, but also concern for who is appointed to the judiciary. Rarely has the need to pay attention to these consequences been so obvious for gun owners as the last week.
The obvious issue is the Supreme Court and McDonald v. Chicago. Yes, we will all wait as the Justices deliberate and issue their final decision on how the Second Amendment will be incorporated. But for political junkies, who didn't hold their breath as they read the headline generated from rumors that Chief Justice John Roberts would step down? (For more information about how that rumor was generated from a 1L class at Georgetown to headlines, read this account.) If the rumor had proved to be true, suddenly the Heller 5 would be no more, and the litigation that will likely define the contours of the Second Amendment would be at risk since the likely replacement would not be friendly to our rights.
Another reason for gun owners to be concerned was on display at the Huffington Post this week. Former federal judge H. Lee Sarokin wrote about the recent issues with carry in Starbucks and put his real feelings about the right to bear arms on the record. His perception of those who carry firearms for protection is a stereotypical and disconnected vision of uneducated, racist, and trigger happy men. While we are fortunate that Judge Sarokin has been off of the bench for more than a decade, the idea that more appointees like him may still be deciding future Second Amendment cases is disturbing. (Judge Sarokin was appointed by President Carter to the United States District Court (N.J.) and elevated to the United States Court of Appeals (3rd Cir.) by President Clinton.)
While most voters only think about the Supreme Court when they think about judicial concerns at the ballot box, Judge Sarokin is a reminder that federal appointments at various levels can make a difference in issues we care about. Once the McDonald decision does come down, it will leave many detailed questions about the permissible scope of gun control laws to be answered by lower courts. However, those appointments rarely receive the scrutiny and attention of Supreme Court nominees.