Why the Supreme Court vacancy matters: Q&A with new BYU professor Christopher Krewson

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See also: The legacy and impact of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

J. Scott Applewhite
The steps are lined by women members of Congress, as the flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is carried out by a joint services military honor guard after lying in state at the U.S. Capitol, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Trump is expected to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Sept. 26, and BYU political science professor Christopher Krewson said students should sit up and take note.

Krewson, who has recently joined the faculty at BYU, specializes in judicial politics, the behavior of judges and public opinion of the court. The Daily Universe asked him to describe the significance of Ginsburg’s replacement on the bench in this Q&A.

Everything to know about the Supreme Court vacancy

Q: Why should a BYU student care about the Supreme Court vacancy?

A: Vacancies are fairly rare. For the last four presidents, each president has had two, now Trump has three. The person who fills the vacancy sits on the court for, since the 1970s, an average of 24 years. The justice who fills Justice Ginsburg’s seat will outlive a two-term president. They’ll be on the court on average three times the amount of a two-term president. On top of that, they decide really important issues.

You should care about the vacancy because it matters for the direction of policy, it matters in terms of checks and balances. Regardless of your viewpoint, it matters.

Q: What are some cases/issues we should have on our radar?

A: Obamacare will be coming before the Court. First Amendment rights are always before the Court. The Court has been dodging Second Amendment cases for over a decade now. Voting rights. I’m sure other cases will come up related to abortion.

Another issue I think that will become increasingly important is the right of privacy when it comes to technology and our devices.

Q: Trump has said he will put a woman on the Supreme Court. Do you think it’s important that he choose a woman to fill Ginsburg’s vacancy?

A: I think that’s subjective. There are understandable and good views about the importance of descriptive representation, and I think there are important points about how a woman’s experience is different than a man’s experience; (women) bring different perspectives to the table. I also understand the view that maybe (gender) is less relevant to judging.

When a female justice retires, presidents think about nominating another female justice. When Justice O’Connor vacated her seat, President George W. Bush first nominated a woman (Harriet Miers). When Justice Marshall vacated his seat, President George H. W. Bush nominated another African American (Clarence Thomas). It’s not surprising at all that President Trump would seek to fill the seat with another woman, based on precedent.

Q: Trump has talked about Judge Amy Coney Barrett potentially filling the seat. Do you think she would be a good choice?

A: Judge Barrett: closer vote, more controversial pick. Because of past statements and what happened in her last confirmation hearing. She’s younger, so Trump might like that. She’s been a federal court of appeals judge so she has more of a history. If you want to pick a nominee that you know how they’re going to vote, she has a longer track record of being a federal judge. So for President Trump, she could be a safer pick in terms of “you know who you’re getting.”

I think there’s more information on Justice Barrett in terms of how she’ll vote based on her experience as a federal judge. But I think politically, in terms of making sure you get a confirmation, diversifying the court, I think Justice Barbara Lagoa could be a good pick too.

Q: Some Democrats have been floating ‘court packing.’ What are your thoughts on Democrats putting more justices on the Supreme Court to deal with the ideological imbalance?

A: It would not be unconstitutional, so they can do it. There may be repercussions down the line.

There’s a clear precedent that if you ‘up the ante’ when the other side’s in power, they’ll do the same. If the Democrats did pack the Court, then when Republicans or some other party takes the Senate, they could easily do the same thing.

The other thing you have to think about is public support for the Court. The Supreme Court has better approval than Congress and almost always has. If Congress, in the view of the public, attacks the institution for (what the public views as) not a good reason, there are some immediate benefits, but there might be some long-term repercussions, too, for (Congress).

Those are the three factors you have to weigh. Constitutionality, retribution and public support for the institution itself.

Get to know Professor Krewson

Christopher Krewson recently joined the BYU political science faculty. (Alyssa Lyman/BYU Photo)

Krewson recently joined the faculty of BYU over the summer and is currently teaching a class in American judicial politics. In addition to asking questions about the Supreme Court hearing, the Daily Universe asked questions to help students get to know him better.

Q: When was the moment you knew judicial politics was your interest?

A: I’ll do a plug for the Washington Seminar. The Washington Seminar gave me the ‘in’ over there (Washington D.C.). I can’t remember what my first interview was, but I failed my first interview. Then I had this backup interview with this place called the Federal Judicial Center, which sounds cool but I was just in their library scanning stuff. I became friends with the people in the research division over there and weaseled my way into interning with them the next year and just really fell in love with the research, and the courts in particular.

Q: What is the best part of doing judicial research?

A: I like discovering patterns of behavior. I like collecting data, running statistics and discovering how justices and judges behave. I think you can learn a lot just by talking to judges, by observing statistical analysis to uncover these patterns we don’t see on our own. It’s really exciting.

Q: What are you most excited about for being at BYU?

A: The students. I love working with students: they’re smart, they’re kind, they’re thoughtful. I really enjoy working with them. That’s the number one. Number two is everything that comes with it: I love Cougar sports, I love campus, our family loves to come to campus, we love the Creamery.

Q: What’s the best flavor at the Creamery?

A: We’re really into Graham Canyon.

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