Supreme Court Status: It’s Complicated

by Carly Wellener

Several weeks ago, on Saturday February 13th, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away while on a hunting trip in West Texas. Even before Scalia’s funeral the following week, tensions were, to say the least, quite high over one thing: who should get to choose Justice Scalia’s replacement?

Republican-controlled Congress says, “The next president should choose. Oh, and we’ll block anyone President Obama nominates because 1) We can 2) Lack of extremely specific precedent asserting the president can do this in their last year of presidency 3) We can.”

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Meanwhile, Obama and the Democrats are all like, “Um, no… Obama is the president so he gets to nominate the next Justice and y’all are gonna have to deal with that.”

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So, what is all the fuss about and why should you care? Well, Justices in the Supreme Court essentially serve as very long lasting legacies of whichever president appoints them. For example, Scalia was appointed in 1986 by Ronald Reagan and was a significant conservative force in the U.S. government up until his recent death. Another significance is that right now, the court is divided evenly between conservative and liberal justices (four and four). Scalia used to be the 9th and deciding vote on a lot of issues (generally, though not always, choosing more conservative interpretations of the law).

Now, if no one new is appointed and approved soon, lots of rulings on some very hot button topics (affirmative action, abortion, health care to name a few) will likely end in gridlock with the court equally divided between liberal and conservative Justices. This means that the lower court rulings will stand and no legal precedents will be set. So basically, without a new justice the Supreme Court won’t be accomplishing much anytime soon.

The Republicans tend to see this as an alternative to the possibility of a new, (potentially more liberal) Justice appointed by Obama that will change the balance of the court for the foreseeable future out of their favor. Hence the GOP’s current plans to block all nominees for the position in Congress until after the election by simply refusing to hold confirmation hearings for any of President Obama’s nominees. It doesn’t help that a video from 1992 of Joe Biden calling for the democrats to use this same tactic has recently resurfaced… Yikes…

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To summarize: there is a Supreme Court vacancy and, as usual, everyone disagrees on what to do and politics continue to be quite ridiculous. The drama over Scalia’s successor will likely persist for the next few months, so you better grab some popcorn.

Sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/13/politics/supreme-court-justice-antonin-scalia-dies-at-79/