Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Justice Antonin Scalia...

...died on Saturday at age 79. While President Obama plans on nominating a successor (Sri Srinivasan is the favorite on Paddy Power) in "due time," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the "vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

You can imagine who I think is right here. (Hint: President Obama was re-elected to a four-year term, not a three-year term.) But the country is in the midst of a low-grade "civil war." So I'm prepared to see no one confirmed in 2016; the Court will just have to function with eight justices. (Apparently, it's not the end of the world.)

But here's something interesting I read in Bloomberg this morning:

While Scalia's death at age 79 raises the Supreme Court stakes for the election, they remain jarringly high even if Obama manages to fill the vacancy. As of Election Day, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 83, Justice Anthony Kennedy will be 80, and Justice Stephen Breyer will be 78.

So let's assume that President Obama nominates someone and McConnell is successful at blocking it. Then in November a Democrat or a Republican is elected and the first thing that happens next year is a big fight over the Supreme Court that could last for months and consume valuable time in the next president's first term. If the Democrats take back the Senate they'll surely make life difficult for a President Cruz or a President Rubio; if the Republicans remain in charge they'll do the same with a President Clinton. But after reading that paragraph above, it's the best case scenario.

What if -- what if -- one or more of those other justices died? Or retired? What if, in the next year or so, they all did. (That's not so far-fetched is it? How many people do you know over the age of 77 that are still working?) Then what? Would President Obama get to replace any of them? Would the next president? Or would the Supreme Court of the United States just have to get by with five justices? Will any president ever get to nominate another Supreme Court justice? Or would the institution just wither away?

Seriously, is this any way to run a railroad?

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