Goodbye to that tie (经济学人《告别领结,平衡不再》)

Goodbye to that tie

Another chance for Barack Obama to shape the Supreme Court

Apr 9th 2010 | WASHINGTON, DC | From The Economist print edition

ONE of the most effective ways for a president to put his mark on the future is to nominate judges to the Supreme Court. Because the nine justices are entitled to serve for life, and because something about life on the court appears to promote longevity, such opportunities are rare. Barack Obama got a first chance early in his presidency. Last summer he appointed Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina judge. Now he will get a second chance. John Paul Stevens, the present court’s longest-serving justice, turns 90 on April 20th. On April 9th he announced he would retire in the summer.

对一位想要名垂史册的美国总统来说,最有效的方法之一是向最高法院提名大法官。但这种机会可真是千载难逢——因为九名大法官的任期是终身制的,而且法庭上 仿佛有什么神奇的东西让大法官都长命百岁。奥巴马在上任不久后就逢此良机。去年夏天他任命Sonia Sotomayor为大法官,这是美国历史上第一位拉丁美洲裔的女法官。[2] 现在第二次机会又眷顾了奥巴马。本届法院任期最长的大法官,约翰·保罗·史蒂文斯将于4月20日度过他的九十岁生日。他己在4月9日正式宣布会于今年夏天退休。

Mr Stevens is still vigorous and mentally alert. He spends a lot of his spare time swimming and playing tennis in Florida. He says that after more than 34 years on the bench he still loves the “wonderful job”. But since the Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the constitution, appointments are fiercely political. Mr Stevens’s retirement gives Mr Obama a chance to replace him with another liberal.

已届鲐背之年的史蒂文斯大法官仍然精力充沛,思维敏捷。家住福罗里达的他工作之余喜欢游泳和网球。他说即使已经当了三十四年多的大法官,自己仍然深爱着这 份 “美妙的工作”。但由于最高法院乃是美国宪法的最终解释者,大法官的任命受到强烈的政治左右。随着史蒂文斯大法官的退休,奥巴马先生有机会请另一位自由派 法官来接任他。

Presidents cannot always be sure that the judges they nominate will perform as expected. Mr Stevens was the only Supreme Court justice to be appointed by Gerald Ford, a Republican president, and at a time when the young judge thought of himself as a Republican too. He told the New York Times recently that his judicial philosophy was conservative, in that he believes that the job of the court is to decide cases and resolve controversies, not write “broad rules” about society’s questions. But he is now generally held to be the leader of the court’s four liberal judges, the other three being Ms Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. John Roberts, the chief justice, is a conservative, as are Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Anthony Kennedy, though conservative on most issues, is the court’s swing voter.

被总统提名的大法官往往上任后却不按照总统的意愿行事。史蒂文斯就是一例。他是共和党总统杰拉尔德·福特在任期内任命的唯一一位大法官,彼时这位年轻的法 官坚信自己也是共和党人。他曾对《纽约时报》的记者表达自己保守的司法哲学,因为他相信法院的职责是审判案件和解决纷争,而不是书写对社会问题的“普适原 则”。然而现在他却通常被认为是四位自由派大法官的领头人,另三位分别是Sotomayor女士、Stephen Breyer和Ruth Bader Ginsburg。首席大法官约翰·罗伯茨则是保守派,同一阵营的还有 Antonin Scalia、Samuel Alito和Clarence Thomas。Anthony Kennedy尽管在大多数问题上持保守态度,但基本上是摇摆不定的中立者。

This delicate imbalance of power in favour of the conservatives is not something Mr Obama will be able to change when Mr Stevens retires, no matter how much he would like to. The president’s relations with Chief Justice Roberts are fraught. In January’s state-of-the-union message in front of Congress, Mr Obama criticised the court’s decision the previous week to overturn swathes of campaign-finance law and allow corporations and other organisations to spend as much as they liked on political advertising at election time. After that speech, Mr Roberts complained that the state-of-the-union message had become a “political pep rally”. And another thumping collision between the administration and the court could be on the way. Some Republicans question the constitutionality of the requirement in Mr Obama’s new health law for every citizen to buy insurance on pain of a fine.

九位大法官以保守派的微弱优势形成了一种微妙的权力失衡。史蒂文斯大法官退休后,尽管奥巴马很想改变这一失衡的状态,却也回天乏术。奥巴马总统与首席大法 官罗伯茨的关系十分紧张。今年一月,奥巴马在国会面前的国情咨文演讲中批评了最高法院一周前推翻竞选财政法的决策, 这一判决使公司和其他组织在大选期间可以无限制地资助候选人。罗伯茨大法官在此后抱怨说这次国情咨文演讲成了一场“政治赛前动员会”。当局和最高法院之间 的另一次剧烈冲突也在酝酿中。奥巴马先生在他改革的卫生法中要求每位公民都必须购买医疗保险,违者需缴纳罚款,一些共和党人质疑这一点是否有悖宪法精神。

When Mr Stevens goes, the most Mr Obama can hope to do is to keep the court’s balance as it is by replacing one liberal with another. But even this might not prevent a slight shift to the conservatives. The new judge would certainly lack Mr Stevens’s experience. Nor is the timing of his departure altogether ideal. Hearings before the mid-terms would, it is true, allow the Senate to vote when the Democrats can still generally rely on mustering a simple majority. But they would need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and an election year gives the Republicans an extra incentive to use the hearings to score political points. For example Goodwin Liu, whom Mr Obama has nominated to a lower court, has run into trouble with critics who accuse him of withholding information about his liberal beliefs. Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Democrat, had urged Mr Stevens to wait.

史蒂文斯离任后,奥巴马能做的最多也就是任命另一位自由派大法官,从而维持最高法院现有的平衡。但此举可能还是无法阻止天平向保守派一端轻微的倾斜。新上 任的大法官显然不如史蒂文斯经验丰富。史蒂文斯退休的时机也不太理想。诚然,中期选举前的听证会令参议员得以投票,但通常民主党仍能依靠人数取胜。不过民 主党需要60票来压倒阻挠议案。即将到来的大选年对共和党人来说是额外的奖励,意味着他们可以用听证会的方式给政客打分。奥巴马任命的Goodwin Liu在下级法院担任法官,最近他因隐瞒自己的自由主义信仰受到指责,从而陷入了困境。参议员Arlen Specter是宾夕法尼亚州的一位民主党人,他之前曾恳求史蒂文斯推迟退休的决定。

As for replacements for Mr Stevens, several possible names are being discussed. Most of them were considered last year before Mr Obama settled on Ms Sotomayor. For the moment Elena Kagan, the solicitor-general and a former dean of Harvard Law School, appears at the top of this list. But choosing a candidate in the shadow of an election will be tricky. Another liberal in the mould of Ms Sotomayor might fire up Mr Obama’s loyal base. It could also be the perfect way to alienate those all-important independent voters.

说到接替史蒂文斯的人选,有不少名字在热议中,其中大多数在去年奥巴马任命Sotomayor女士之前就是大法官的热门候选。美国总检察长Elena Kagan现在呼声最高,她同时也是哈佛大学法学院院长。不过在大选年任命大法官是颇为棘手的。在Sotomayor女士之后再加上一位自由派大法官也许 能巩固奥巴马拥护者的阵营,同时也能有效疏远那些往往投出关键一票的独立投票者。

[1] 史蒂文斯大法官从1975年至今已有35年任期。他打着领结的形象深入人心。另外”tie”还有“平局” 的意思,指的是九位大法官中有四位自由派和四位保守派这一持平的状况。此处应有双关的意味。
[2] latina judge,拉丁美洲裔女法官。拉丁语中形容词有性别之分,latina为阴性,相对的阳性则为latino。