Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley has a great idea. He wants to debate opponent Sen. Claire McCaskill, but limit the exchange to one topic: the U.S. Supreme Court.
Like many Missourians, we wish Hawley and McCaskill would debate their primary opponents first. Assuming both are nominated in August, though, a single-topic debate on the court would help illuminate both candidates' views on an essential subject.
At the same time, if the candidates repeat the usual campaign pablum about rejecting "activist" judges and picking justices who "follow the Constitution," the debate would be a waste of everyone's time. Empty quotes won't clear anything up.
Nominees for the court evade truthful and revealing answers like a swarm of mosquitoes, claiming the need for impartiality. But Hawley and McCaskill are under no such restraint. Both are lawyers, and both should answer questions about recent cases and future controversies.
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Once voters know their judicial philosophies, they'll understand the kind of judges the candidates would support. With that in mind, here are some legal issues Hawley and McCaskill should debate.
Do you think the Constitution guarantees a right of privacy? Is abortion a protected privacy right? Can states tell "crisis pregnancy centers" what to tell their clients? If not, can states tell abortion clinic operators what to say to their clients?
Is same-sex marriage protected by the Constitution? Was the Colorado cake case properly decided?
Is there any constitutional limit to gerrymandering? Are anonymous "dark money" contributions protected by the First Amendment? Was the Citizens United decision right? Should anonymous campaign commercials be allowed on the internet?
Can states require documents proving citizenship before someone can register to vote?
Can governments help disadvantaged businesses and populations? If not, are minority- and women-business set-asides at the new Kansas City airport illegal? Should colleges and universities pursue disadvantaged students?
Do you believe poor defendants deserve lawyers? If so, why won't Missouri pay for public defenders? Do immigrants have constitutional due process rights? Do Muslim immigrants? Is there any check on presidential power?
Is there any constitutional limit on gun rights? If so, what is it? Can the police seek your mobile phone records without a warrant? Under what circumstances, if any, is the death penalty unconstitutional?
Was the court right to allow states to offer sports gambling? To allow state and local taxes on internet sales?
Should the court follow its own precedents, or discard them whenever it's convenient, as is now routine?
These questions are a good start. More will surface in the weeks ahead. Both candidates should agree on a time and a place for this discussion. We'll be there.