By Editorial Staff
Published December 1, 1988
WASHINGTON, D.C. (EP) – For President-elect George Bush and his running mate Dan Quayle the election victory means control of the White House for four years. For Evangelical political analysts, the November 8 victory is more significant: it means conservative control of the U.S. Supreme Court for decades to come.
Bush won the presidential election with 54 percent of the nation’s popular vote, and 352 electoral votes, more than the 270 electoral votes needed to win. This makes Bush the first incumbent vice president to be elected to the presidency since Martin Van Buren in 1836. As President, Bush will make appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court plays a central role in shaping the nation’s social policy on issues including abortion, homosexuality, and church/state relations. After years of liberal control, the Court has become more sharply divided, with many socially significant cases being decided by a 5-to-4 vote. Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life, but since the Court’s three most liberal members will be 80 or older when Bush is inaugurated, the next president is expected to be able to make appointments that will tip the Court’s balance in a sharply conservative direction.
Elizabeth Kepley, director of legislative affairs for Concerned Women for America, says her organization “would be very much supportive of his choosing Supreme Court nominees who interpret the Constitution according to the original intention of the founding fathers and use judicial restraint … We would hope that he would continue in the tradition of Ronald Reagan and choose those justices who practice judicial restraint.”
Robert Dugan, director of the Office of Public Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, says the implications of a Bush-appointed Court are clear. “That is, of course, the major issue in all of this, given that three members of the Supreme Court will be 80 years of age or better by inauguration day. The odds are that Bush will be able to replace one or two of those in his four years, and that means it’s almost certain that Roe vs. Wade [the Court’s landmark abortion ruling] will be overturned. Justice Blackmun, the author of Roe vs. Wade, was afraid the current Court would overturn it, without any changes in personnel.”
Dugan says a more conservative Court would also be likely to favor government accommodation of religion, rather than a strict separation of church and state. Critics of strict separation argue that under such a policy the government often appears to be actively favoring irreligion, or secularism, and penalizing church organizations for their religious nature.
Court watchers have suggested that the more moderate Bush is not as likely to appoint conservative justices as his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. But Dugan thinks Bush understands that he’ll have to meet conservative expectations when Supreme Court vacancies appear.
“I think he understands,” explains Dugan. “If George Bush wants to govern, and not simply be President, he has to maintain the political alliance that gave him the White House, and that means the Evangelical and conservative movements are essential to him. If he ignores their wishes when it comes to appointments of Supreme Court justices, the outcry will be heard from coast to coast. He will alienate conservatives and Evangelicals if his first appointment is a moderate. He’s already got a hostile Congress; he’ll need all the public support he can get to get his proposals through Congress. This Congress won’t give him much of a honeymoon period.”
Does Bush owe his election victory to Evangelicals? Dugan says early poll results he’s seen indicate that Evangelicals supported Bush by a 2-to-l margin, and white Evangelicals by an even broader margin. “I attribute that to the fact that the Bush campaign made the traditional values package of issues the third major thrust of their campaign,” notes Dugan.
Bush was quick to express his thankfulness to God during his victory speech. “I thank God for the faith He’s given me, and as I grow older, I’m more aware of the spiritual element in life, and I ask for God’s help,” he said.
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