From an early age, Sheldon Goldman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, knew exactly what he wanted to do: teach American politics at university.
Goldman was born in the Bronx and majored in political science at New York University. He then earned his doctorate at Harvard under the initial tutelage of legendary political scientist Valdimer Orlando Key. He wrote his dissertation on United States Court of Appeals Appointments – The Selection Process, Criteria, and Partisanship Of It, and has continued his research ever since.
A bright-eyed Harvard graduate, Goldman joined the political science department at UMass in 1965, where he has passionately taught students about civil liberties and constitutional law ever since. Goldman, affectionately known to students and faculty as Shelly, is one of the most renowned scholars of the American justice system in the world.
In this tumultuous period of American politics, the judiciary was warped by partisanship and immorality. The role of the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, has become another partisan tool for Democrats and Republicans to advance their agendas.
Goldman is currently researching perhaps the most obvious example of this: the difficulty in confirming judicial appointments. Supreme Court nominees typically receive overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle. However, recent appointments like Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have caused enormous backlash and undermined the integrity of the Supreme Court.
Goldman said there was clearly a “sense among Democrats that there was a stolen seat”, referring to Mitch McConnell’s unprecedented obstruction of Merrick Garland’s nomination. He underscored the importance of the role former Justice Anthony Kennedy played in balancing partisan balances in court before his retirement in 2018.
For years, Kennedy blocked conservative judges from overturning life-saving decisions like women’s right to abortion, to vote and to equal protection. In Goldman’s words, Kennedy often “brought the court back from the brink”.
He pointed to the fact that a more conservative Supreme Court can overrule landmark cases like Roe vs. Wadethe decision that established a woman’s right to abortion. There is speculation that Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who surprisingly voted against a law that would have severely limited abortion rights in Louisiana, “is particularly concerned about the reputation of the court” and wants to prevent the court from being “considered a negatively partisan institution.
According to a number of reports and by his own admission, Roberts “believes John Marshall to be the greatest judge of all time”, due to his extensive efforts to preserve the integrity and image of the court.
Many scholars hope that, in the same way as Justice William Rehnquist’s demeanor changed when he became Chief Justice, Roberts will prioritize saving important precedents and not turning the court into a partisan weapon – something he proved when he reprimanded the President Trump by referring to a California district judge as “Judge Obama”.
“We don’t have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges who do their best to do an equal right to those who appear before them.”
Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have “Obama judges,” and they have a very different perspective than the people in charge of our country’s security. It would be great if the 9th Circuit was indeed an “independent judiciary”, but if this is why……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2018
Goldman predicts that if the court leans too far to the right and begins to irresponsibly overturn crucial precedents on an ideological whim, the Democrats will take matters into their own hands when they regain the presidency.
He warned that the Democrat’s ‘count’ would take the form of an ‘increase in the number of judges from nine to eleven’ in a bid not to go ‘tack for tat’ but rather to restore a ‘nonpartisan organization and non-ideological”. to research.”
Because the Supreme Court now has a Republican majority, Goldman warned that Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Roberts could topple Roe vs. Wade. In fact, Roberts, who is now considered the swing vote, “wrote a memo when he worked for the Justice Department that the way to unseat Roe is incremental.” Goldman said the Supreme Court would likely dismantle Roe vs. Wade by increasing the “rights of the state” rather than “framing it as an anti-abortion issue”. However, the results would be the same.
Goldman quashed speculation that Thomas would step down to have President Trump appoint another young conservative to the court before 2020, saying, “It’s a fantastic job…fantastic for the ego.” He recounted how former Assistant Judge Thurgood Marshall told his clerks the only way out of court was “in a coffin”.
Goldman also discussed the future of another influential judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He commented that “she’s got a strong constitution, she’s got resolve,” reiterating Democrats’ belief that she will hold out until 2020. Ginsburg has served on the court since 1993.
Goldman favors term limits in the judiciary to combat growing partisanship.
“Theoretically, term limits could be a good thing,” he said. “That would keep things rolling on the pitch, that there are new ideas coming in.”
However, he clarified that it would be very difficult to pass a constitutional amendment.
“I think 15 or 20 years is an appropriate time for a judge to serve,” Goldman said.
According to the professor, the ideal age range for a judge depends heavily on whether or not term limits are in place. If they’re in place, there’s no problem naming someone in their 40s. HHowever, if there is no term limit, “you could have someone sitting in the field for half a century, which is very scary.”
When asked if Democrats would renominate Garland if they won the 2020 presidency, Goldman said he believed Garland had “demonstrated genuine civil liberties but was not an ideal candidate.”
IIf Republicans win the 2020 presidency, he noted, Amy Barrett, “who is fiercely anti-abortion,” could fill a vacant seat.
What Goldman wants after years of study in the legal field is to have “open-minded judges, who can be persuaded by good legal arguments”. The only way to measure this is to predict with a high degree of certainty how a judge will vote.
After discussing Supreme Court politics, Goldman went on to recount the times he met with Supreme Court justices. Not knowing how many he had met with them, Goldman recalled meeting Justices Douglas, Marshall, Scalia, Brennan, and Bryer.
HWe remembered backstage discussions at events and panels where he was treated as their equal. Goldman even recalled an anecdote of ruffling the feathers of the late Justice Scalia by saying they had a mutual friend in common, baffling the conservative judiciary.
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