The death of Justice Antonin Scalia at the age of 79, while sad for his family, represents an opportunity to change the Supreme Court and America with a single nomination.
The Supreme Court has leaned conservative for decades now, which has had devastating effects om laws and policies that were championed by the Court during the progressive era between the Great Depression and the early 1970s.
Only hours after Scalia’s death was confirmed, Republicans vowed to block any nominee President Obama makes to replace him. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said that he would rather wait until the next president takes office to confirm a new Justice. Ted Cruz, who hopes to be that next president, has made the same statement.
If Republicans have their way, Americans will have a Supreme Court with only eight Justices on the bench for the next year or more instead of doing their job to help fill the new vacancy as soon as possible. That means we could have many cases that end in a tie, unresolved, for that span of time or longer depending on how long it takes for them to get back to the Court. Those cases would have to be brought back to the Court later when it has a full bench again.
Scalia’s death effectively changes all the cases that are currently on the docket, including an affirmative action case, a public sector unions case, and an abortion case that almost certainly would have gone in favor of conservatives had he lived to make his decision. So these issues could live on to fight another day.
And that’s why the 2016 Election has become even more important. We have heard multiple times that this election is an important one because the next president could end up making several nominations to the nation’s highest court in the next four years. Well, if we weren’t taking that seriously before, we certainly must take that seriously now.
If Senate Republicans say ‘no’ to confirming any nominee President Obama makes during his last year in office, it would fall to the next president to nominate someone after taking office in 2017. It could delay the Court from settling cases effectively for over a year since we would have to wait for a new president who would then have to go through the nominating process. The nominee would then have to be confirmed in what would likely be a long and grueling process if Republicans still hold the Senate and Democrats remain in control of the White House. Keep in mind that the Senate is up for grabs as well in this election.
If a Democrat like Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders wins the presidency, we would see a seismic shift in the Court. With one nomination, and the possibility of others over the next 4 to 8 years, the Supreme Court could become a liberal-leaning or liberal-dominated Court that would have the power to not only keep abortion legal and protect affirmative action, it would have the power to reverse decisions made by the Court during Scalia’s tenure, including Citizen’s United which struck down campaign finance reform and Shelby County v. Holder which weakened the Voting Rights Act. A nomination by a Democratic president would end the constant 5-4 decisions that have rolled America back.
If a Republican wins on the other hand, we could end up with a nominee who would be as conservative as Justice Scalia or even more extreme. Ted Cruz is desperate to become president, and you can bet that he’ll pick a nominee who would vote to end Obamacare, abortion, same-sex marriage, and basically vote the way conservatives want that new Justice to vote. Conservative dominance of the Court would continue on and any policy that liberals care about would be in serious jeopardy.
The next pick for the Supreme Court will have an enormous impact no matter if a Republican or a Democrat makes the selection. But if a Democrat makes the choice, it would certainly have the most impact of all.
Senate Republicans could obey precedence and immediately begin the process of confirming a nominee President Obama chooses, therefore the Supreme Court issue wouldn’t play nearly as big a role in the election, essentially keeping it out of politics where it belongs. But it looks like Republicans want to play politics with the Court and neglect to do their jobs again in the hope that they can delay long enough so that a Republican can make the selection in 2017, and potentially more selections if other Justices die or retire.
In short, it really doesn’t matter if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders wins the nomination. What is important is that all Democrats vote for whoever the Democratic candidate is so that a Republican will not be making the choice of who sits on the Supreme Court. America’s future could very well depend on it.
Featured image from Wikimedia