News / USA

Supreme Court Politics of Campaign 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (L) stands with fellow Justices Anthony Kennedy (2nd from L), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan (R) prior to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 28, 2014
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (L) stands with fellow Justices Anthony Kennedy (2nd from L), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan (R) prior to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 28, 2014
There’s no shortage of issues for this year’s congressional midterm elections and the presidential showdown in 2016—the state of the economy, health care and foreign policy all figure into the mix.

But how about another factor few people are talking about at the moment: the future of the Supreme Court.
 
President Barack Obama has made two appointees to the high court—Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010. Both women replaced liberal justices, so the political split on the court remained the same: five conservatives and four liberals if you put Justice Anthony Kennedy in the conservative column—even though he often represents the swing vote in five-to-four court decisions.

Supreme Court appointments are for life, leaving individual justices to decide how long to stay on the job, and since 1980 the average age of a retiring justice has been 79.

The question is whether President Obama will have an opportunity to name a third justice to the high court some time before he leaves office in early 2017. 

Who might go?

Court observers have long thought that the most likely justice to retire next would be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was appointed to the high court by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

Now 81 and two-time cancer survivor, Ginsburg has given every indication she would like to stay on the court for a while yet, even if some liberal activists hope she would retire before the end of Obama's term to make way for another liberal appointment — thereby keeping the court's ideological makeup intact.

In fact, some liberal activists have suggested both Ginsburg and Breyer should time their retirements to give Obama the chance to appoint younger liberals who would remain on the court for years to come.

While Supreme Court justices tend to say little about their retirement plans, and completely sidestep the issue of possible successors, retired Justice John Paul Stevens had a different view.

Appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1975, Stevens was replaced by Justice Elena Kagan after stepping down for health reasons in 2010, telling ABC’s “This Week” that it was “natural and appropriate” for a retiring justice to think about a successor.

“If you’re interested in the job and in the kind of work that’s done, you have an interest in who’s going to fill your shoes," he said.
 
Three of the other justices are now in their 70s. Justice Antonin Scalia, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, is the longest-serving member of the current court at 78, while Justice Kennedy, a fellow Reagan appointee, is 77, and Justice Stephen Breyer, appointed by President Clinton, is 75.

None has given any indication of impending retirement.

Political impact

A retirement by any one of the conservative justices would likely set off an intense confirmation battle in the Senate. Republicans would probably try to block any attempt by Obama to appoint a proven liberal, which would alter the current five-to-four advantage of court conservatives.
 
The high court could figure as an issue in this year’s midterm election campaign as well, though most analysts consider it well down the list of priorities for voters more worried about the economy, health care and the budget.

However, if Republicans can gain the six seats they need to retake control of the Senate, it might make it harder for Obama to nominate a true liberal justice to the court should a vacancy emerge.
 
Court decisions often have huge political impact. The court upheld the constitutionality of Obama’s signature health care law in 2012, for example, thanks to unexpected support from Chief Justice John Roberts, an appointee of President George W. Bush. Rulings on gun rights, abortion, affirmative action and same-sex marriage spark intense political debate and sometimes congressional action.
 
It’s more likely that Supreme Court nominations and the political balance on the court will become an issue in the 2016 presidential election. Given the advanced ages of Ginsburg and Justice Stephen Breyer, a Republican president might have the opportunity to replace both of them with more conservative justices, ensuring the high court has a conservative tilt for years to come.
 
However, if a Democratic candidate such as Hillary Clinton takes the White House in 2016, she would have the chance to possibly replace some retiring conservative justices with more liberal appointees, shifting the ideological balance on the court from center-right to center-left.
 
It should be pointed out that Supreme Court justices don’t always conform to the expectations of the presidents who appointed them. Even though he was appointed by Republican Gerald Ford, Stevens turned out to be one of the court’s most reliable liberal votes, whereas, Justice David Souter, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, often annoyed conservatives by siding with liberal justices.
 
The Supreme Court is rarely a major issue in our election campaigns. But given the sharp ideological divide on the high court at the moment and likelihood for several retirements over the next several years, the election outcome in 2016 could have a huge impact on the court makeup and decisions for years to come.

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid