Obama could become a Supreme Court justice. The idea was suggested to Hillary Clinton at a recent Iowa campaign event. She seemed very excited by the suggestion, telling the crowd she “loved” the idea and would strongly consider it if elected president.
“Wow, what a great idea. No one has ever suggested that to me, I love that, wow!” She went on to say, “I mean, he’s brilliant, he can set forth an argument and he was a law professor. So he’s got all the credentials.”
Clinton did of course recognize that an Obama nomination would likely not pass the Republican Senate, and incited the crowd to help her switch the Senate back to a Democratic majority.
Our nation’s next president could theoretically appoint four Supreme Court justices. The untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away suddenly on February 13, presents the first vacancy. The Reagan appointee was a devout Catholic and the first Italian American appointed to the court. He served nearly 30 years on the Court, and was praised by conservatives for his fierce criticism of judicial activism and his staunch conservatism.
Three of the justices (Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Breyer) were all born in the 1930s. Seats on the Court are life tenure, meaning the judges themselves decide when to retire, but it has long been speculated that one if not all would retire soon.
Naturally, Scalia’s untimely death has caused a great uproar, with both political parties engaged in a sparring match about what the next steps should be.
Republicans vow to keep the seat open until the next President is elected, while Democrats naturally want the vacancy filled immediately. Mrs. Clinton was quoted as saying, “The Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail who are calling for (Scalia’s) seat to remain vacant dishonor our Constitution. They have a constitutional responsibility that cannot be abdicated for partisan political reasons.”
The stakes are very high due to the Court’s docket of big-ticket items: voting rights, union rights, affirmative action, contraception, and abortion. Prior to Scalia’s death, the court was clearly 4-4 liberal/conservative, with ninth Justice Kennedy typically serving as the swing vote.
A liberal appointee replacing Scalia would shift the Court to a 5-4 liberal majority. Democrats relish the thought, and Republicans have nightmares about it. Republicans have no incentive to act quickly and will fiercely fight any Obama nominee.
In the interim, the court will continue its business with only eight Justices. A majority of five in any ruling will be the same as having nine on the court, and cases with a 4-4 split result in a stalemate, and revert to the lower court decisions remaining in effect.
One of Obama’s main agendas has been to liberalize U.S. courts. He first placed four judges on the D.C. Circuit court, making it a 7-4 liberal majority. This court later decided on crucial legislation that made Obamacare a reality.
He has also re-engineered federal courts, having confirmed 280 judges, representing about a third of all federal judgeships. Now his sights are on the highest court in the nation, and Hillary Clinton will likely follow suit. She thinks “the Supreme Court has really unfortunately been heading the wrong direction, and we need new justices who actually understand the challenges we face. I can’t tell whether it’s naivety or ideological, theoretical views (that drive their decisions).”
Democrats believe the Constitution should evolve to the needs of modern society, while Republicans want Justices like Scalia, who believe in “originalism”, the idea that the Constitution should be understood in the context of the era in which it was written.
Obama appointed Sotomayor in 2009 and Kagan in 2010. Frequent discussions have occurred about replacing Ginsburg or Kennedy, but never Scalia, who was expected to remain the firebrand of the Court for a few more years.
Will Obama himself take one of those seats? In a 2014 New Yorker interview, Obama was asked whether he would consider a position on the Supreme Court. “I love the law, intellectually,” Obama said, “I love nutting out these problems, wrestling with these arguments. I love teaching. I miss the classroom and engaging with students. But I think being a Justice is a little bit too monastic for me. Particularly after having spent six years and what will be eight years in this bubble, I think I need to get outside a little bit more.” Time will tell but it looks like the jury is still out on this one.
Rolling Stone Magazine: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/what-antonin-scalias-death-means-for-the-supreme-court-and-the-country-20160213?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=huffpostlive&utm_campaign=partner
The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/27/obama-brief