Monday, February 15, 2016
The SCOTUS Vacancy Will Become the Defining Issue of this Cycle
To say that politics is inherently unpredictable is an understatement, but it's never more so than this cycle, where we may actually be staring into the face of a Sanders/Trump election. And just when we thought that national security would be the cycle's defining issue, it isn't. The unfortunate death of legal giant Antonin Scalia leaves us with an open Supreme Court seat, and the battle over this will be huge.
And it won't favor Republicans.
If the vacancy had been, say, Ruth Bader Ginsberg's seat, this would all play out differently. There has been a tendency in recent years to view certain seats as "owned" by one side or the other, and by tendency, I mean that Republicans totally roll over when the vacancy is owned by the other side.
But this is the seat vacated by a giant of Constitutional conservatism. The left can hardly contain its excitement. And make no mistake, Obama will nominate someone of the Sotomayor/Kagan ilk. Those suggesting he might pick a moderate for the sake of an easy nomination process have surely been asleep for the last seven years.
This is going to get really, really ugly, and every presidential candidate will be drawn in. There has never been a presidential election with an open seat on the line, and this seats holds the balance of the court. Cruz has already said he will filibuster any nominee. It will come down to the GOP Senate, a ship captained by Mitch McConnell, someone who has shown no appetite for conflict with the White House. For now, he says he will block a vote. We'll see how he holds up when the left turns up the volume, and Obama uses the bully pulpit to gin up outrage. Unions will do their part also, as there's a huge case pending that affects their power to collect dues for political advocacy (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association).
McConnell will be under massive pressure from all quarters, which doesn't bode well for those who want the next president to choose Scalia's successor.
How does this affect the presidential race? In my view, it's a slight advantage for Democrats. Most people think of the Supreme Court in terms of social issues, and sure enough there are pending cases on things like abortion and affirmative action. Look for the Dems to key off these issues, particularly abortion. The abortion case pending (Whole Women's Health v. Cole) rules on a fairly technical issue, but that won't matter. Look for Dems to turn the vacant seat into a social issues referendum. This is bad for Republicans, who would much rather see this cycle be about national security and the economy.
This is just getting started.