If the federal judiciary loses its independence through gradual politicization--if the people come to see the court as just one more policy-making body--it will lose the capacity to render authoritative decisions upon the great questions of governmental structure and individual liberty left unanswered by the framers.
Presidents may and often have taken an appointee's political and judicial philosophy into account in selecting judges. Nonetheless, making or appearing to make appointments simply with an eye to obtaining a predictable vote on policy grounds tends not only to weaken belief in law but also to make the style of decision-making still more political, in both fact and public perception.
Independence of the judiciary implies reciprocal obligations. Judges must not only free themselves from all forms of obligation or commitment, including the ties of personal and group loyalties; they also undertake to decide "according to law." This allows--even requires--judgments fitting the country's long-range needs and aspirations; but if the court swings too far towards policy-making, it not only endangers its authority but erodes its claim to independence.
From 1950 to 1974, the court was mandating major institutional changes not only in the administration of justice but in the larger society. The desegregation cases reordered society throughout large regions. The reapportionment cases upset ancient political arrangements. The school prayer cases banished a practice familiar to generations of students. Each made ours a very much more human society, more equal, freer, and more respectful of individual dignity. Each was in keeping with the main currents of American history. Yet the resulting politicization raises concerns about the institutional costs of using judicial decisions so often to go so far so fast.