The Supreme Court convenes this week — the first Monday in October —for a new session that will reverberate over the next 13 months until the first Tuesday in November 2016 when American voters will make their own decisions that could determine the makeup of the Court for a generation.
Over the past year the Court has made some of its most controversial decisions that already are major issues in the presidential campaign, most notably upholding Obamacare and same-sex marriage.
All the Republican contenders for president have made clear that they want to reverse both decisions, and several want to take steps to significantly weaken the Court's authority. Most would apply stiff litmus tests to any nominee, particularly demanding a rigid opposition to abortion and gay marriage. In defense of "religious liberty" they are ready to tear down the wall of separation between church and state that has been particularly important to Jews, who want to see it fortified.
Three presidential wannabes leading the wrecking crew that wants to see that wall breeched, if not removed altogether: Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. Listen to them and you get the impression they think GOP stands for God's Own Party. All the candidates staunchly and repeatedly assert their Christian identity.
"Sadly, under the Obama Administration, we are seeing the greatest assault on faith in our nation’s history. The persecution of religious liberty must end," Cruz states on his campaign web page and on the stump.
"There is a war on faith in America today," he declared, and he apparently sees himself as the holy warrior sent to battle the forces of evil. He has indicated that if elected his interpretation of the Bible would take precedence over the Constitution or the courts.
Republicans seem intent on locking up the homophobe vote and not just with their opposition to same-sex marriage. Huckabee accused Obama of being "more interested in appeasing America's homosexuals than honoring America's heroes" because he intends to nominate a gay man to be secretary of the army.
Huckabee called the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling "unconstitutional" and said he would not feel bound to obey it. "As President I will never bow down to the false gods of judicial supremacy," the Baptist preacher declared. "The Supreme Court … cannot "repeal the laws of nature and nature's God on marriage."
This election takes on greater historic importance when you consider that three justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy — will be 80 or older when the next president is sworn in. Their successors could significantly change the make-up of the Court.
Ginsburg has been an anchor on the left, Scalia on the right and Kennedy, a center-right swing vote that has made the difference in most 5-4 decisions. Ronald Reagan nominated both men 29 years ago; Ginsburg was named by Bill Clinton in 1993.
Voters must understand that they are electing more than a president but also shaping the nation's judiciary for a generation to come. Jewish voters are almost certain to reject in wholesale numbers this GOP tilt to the extreme religious right.