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

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes 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.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More