By Kenneth Tiven
To ensure recognition of his right-wing credentials, Vivek Ramaswamy has dragged judicial appointments to the forefront of his campaign, naming names. He listed two Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas. Both are politicians with law degrees. He wants former US president Donald Trump’s hardcore backers to know that he likes judges and politicians with culture-warrior credentials, willing to attack transgender rights, pandemic-era restrictions and most importantly wants to dismantle the federal government.
Ramaswamy was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Indian parents who emigrated from Kerala. A biology degree from Harvard University and a Yale University law degree provided credentials for success in the pharmaceutical industry. In early polling for the Republicans-only primary races, he has garnered nearly 10%. This places him third, with much better known names trailing. Only Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is polling better with voters. That campaign is unravelling as DeSantis learns that many Americans think what works in Florida should stay in Florida.
Making America’s legal system—and especially the courts—more politically sensitive has gone from ideology to objective for Republicans. A 6-3 majority on the US Supreme Court is not enough. The party wants to win expanded control of both state and national governments in the 2024 election. The Republican base says total control is essential to preserve an America they believe is disappearing in a multi-cultural society. Ramaswamy understands this, playing to such sentiment with his list of potential Supreme Court nominees if he becomes president. This stunt illuminates the courts as crucial to the Republican constitutional vision and the colossal legal stakes at play in the 2024 election.
Recent Supreme Court decisions curtailing personal rights—especially banning abortion as a family planning method—worry Americans who believe in individual Constitutional rights. Adding to that worry Republican attorney-generals in 19 US states that have banned or curtailed abortion rights now want to prosecute women who leave their states for a legal abortion elsewhere. Americans are US citizens, but considered residents of the state where they live, and many have homes in multiple states. The focus on abortion, family planning, gender issues please some voters, but younger and less religiously focused voters are averse to backing candidates in what might become a narrow issues’ campaign.
Trump offered a similar list during the 2016 campaign to offset his playboy reputation among the evangelical Christian base. Remember, Republicans had stonewalled President Barack Obama on his Supreme Court replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg nine months before his term ended. Does this make judges pawns in political races with potential conflicts of interest in rulings? You be the judge on that issue. This demonstrates that the US Supreme Court is a crucial campaign issue in 2024 for both parties. For Democrats control of the House, Senate and White House means they can legislate enlarging the court to 13 justices. This offsets the present 6-3 conservative majority, possible because the size of the Court’s bench is not specified in the US Constitution, and has varied in the past.
Trump is thought to believe that his re-election would protect him, acting as a get-out-of-jail card, essential if true because his legal problems are expanding. Trump defines himself as a victim, angry and contemptuous of the federal criminal charges he faces, saying so at campaign rallies. A new target letter from special prosecutor Jack Smith related to the issue of Trump’s role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election sent the former president to his social network platform. To be clear, a target letter usually means that prosecutors have enough evidence to charge a crime. It offered Trump four days to appear before the grand jury to tell his side of the story, an offer Trump is expected to refuse. Then, it is likely that he will be indicted, this time in a court in Washington.
Back in Florida, the judge handling the classified documents case is mulling over a ruling on when the trial should start. Trump prefers a 16-month delay until after the election in November 2024. Federal prosecutors like this December better. Upcoming is a potential state-level indictment in Georgia for Trump’s role in trying to overturn election results. Trump lawyers lost unanimously in Georgia’s Supreme Court in their effort to quash this probe.
Ramaswamy, with his Yale law education, is perhaps better equipped than most to do the calculus on Trump’s ability to gain the Republican nomination. In the cluttered race for a nomination, anything is possible. Winning the presidency is at another level.
—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels