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

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra 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.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid