President elected in 2012 will likely swing the US Supreme Court one way or the other – for a very long time
The electoral focus on judges in 2012 will not be misplaced. The ages of several Supreme Court Justices and the closely divided makeup of the Court means that its ideological balance – and with it, the fate of gay marriage, abortion, illegal immigration and the like – could swing wildly in either direction after 2012.
By 2016, Justices Scalia and Kennedy will be 80 years old. If we assume a 50% chance of each man serving through 2016 – better odds than life expectancy and disability tables tell us to expect – there is only a 25% probability that both men will do so.
That leaves President Obama, if re-elected, a 75% chance of establishing on the High Court a dependable liberal majority certain to satisfy many of progressives’ pent-up dreams.
On the other hand, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had pancreatic and colon cancer and will turn 83 in 2016. With four conservatives already on the Court, electing a Republican president in 2012 might very well mean the first solid conservative majority on the High Court in 75 years. The conservative Justices would no longer need to court Kennedy’s swing vote. Abortion on demand, affirmative action, restrictions on the death penalty, and enemy combatants’ access to civilian courts would likely fall by the wayside.
Every presidential election I can remember has been deemed by pundits as “the most important election in our lifetime.” I remember agreeing with that statement a couple of times, particularly in 2008. But as for 2012, Curt’s point really resonates.
Of course, there are many unforeseen circumstances. Ginsburg could see the writing on the wall re: Obama’s political fortunes and resign in 2011 for her ideology’s sake, allowing enough time for him to replace her. Don’t forget she was an ACLU attorney. Her ideology runs deep.
… Although that would still net liberals four, giving the president elected in 2012 a 75% chance of nominating two justices that fit his or her belief system, cementing that belief system in the Supreme Court for a very long time.