Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Politics of Supreme Court Nominations in 2016

Random things I've been thinking about in the five days since Antonin Scalia died.

1. It's going to be a challenge for Obama to find a justice willing to be a pawn in a historical/constitutional drama--rather than the next Supreme Court justice.

2. The GOP base seems more sensitive to the Supreme Court, and Scalia's death seems more likely to benefit Republicans. It won't move the needle much, but one or two percent here and one or two percent there and pretty soon you're talking real margins.

3. The politics, both in the Senate and on the Court, are likely to be unexpected. The Court is not going to want to deadlock, and I think people overestimate the 4-4 votes ahead. (The Court doesn't think like legislators do, and counting votes is always dicey.)

In the Senate, I think a few members are bigger institutionalists than we may expect. The Senate functions only because of behavioral norms--strictly followed unwritten rules--and once those are transgressed, government fails to work. We assume the entire GOP consists of bomb-throwers happy to tear down the structure of government. That may be wrong.

4. Everyone is also starting to realize that Scalia's death is only the first in what will be substantial turnover in the next two presidential terms. It's hard to imagine Ginsberg (almost 83), Kennedy (79), and Breyer (77) will all be on the Court when Chelsea Clinton is sworn in in January 2025. This isn't the last fight.

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