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The Supreme Court of the United States February 2016

There are many decisions that a new President needs to make, and many responsibilities. One of the more important ones is the selection of a Supreme Court Justice. In the United States, the Supreme Court is made up of nine Justices. They are nominated by the President but confirmed by the Senate. When the two branches of government are controlled by different parties, a President may have his choice blocked.

That’s what happened to President Obama.

In February 2016, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia died. The death of Justice Scalia left the Court with four conservative justices appointed by Republican presidents and four liberal judges appointed by Democratic presidents.

As was his right and responsibility, President Obama nominated a Judge – Merrick Garland – to fill the seat. But the Republican-dominated Senate refused to initiate the nomination process. For almost a year, Democrats called on Republicans to hold the hearings, accusing the Republicans of stalling one of the most important appointments in the justice system. Every call to do so was ignored. The Republicans argued that since it was an election year, the decision should be left up to the new President.

Donald Trump, then a candidate seeking the party nomination, said Senate Republicans must use their majority to prevent a vote from taking place until a new president was sworn in.

On January 31, 2017, Donald Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Almost immediately, Democrats stated that they would block the nomination meetings, still angered by the refusal of the Republicans to hold a hearing into Obama’s nominee. Democratic Senators have indicated they plan to resist Justice Gorsuch’s nomination, saying they would fight the new nominee “tooth and nail,” testing his credentials and holding Republicans responsible for what they consider to be a “stolen seat.” (CNN.com February 1, 2017)

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Their most potent weapon to resist will be the filibuster. In order to be nominated, a new Supreme Court Justice needs 60 votes in the Senate. Currently, the Republicans hold only 52 seats. If all Democrats vote against Gorush, the only option for the Republicans would be to invoke the so-called “nuclear option” that would eliminate the filibuster as a tool to block the nomination.

Is the nomination of a Justice really an issue for Americans? Does it matter which party picks or confirms a new member of the Court? The answer is yes. The appointment is so important because the Court can make decisions that have such far-reaching impacts on people’s lives.

The Supreme Court hears, considers and decides on cases that address issues such as political campaign spending, restrictive voting procedures, abortion, gun control, discrimination, gay rights, union rights, immigration, housing, gender issues, prisoner rights, health care and contraception. Decisions made by the Supreme Court can touch every aspect of people’s lives.

In the ongoing saga that is the early days of President Trump’s administration, we don’t yet know how the confirmation hearings will go or who will ultimately be named to the Supreme Court. But we do know that Donald Trump now holds the balance of the Court in his hands, with the authority to nominate someone who will decide on issues that are fundamental to the lives of Americans for decades to come.

Given Trump’s disturbing statements about women, minorities, immigrants, refugees, African Americans, reporters and his political adversaries, that is indeed distressing.

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Photo Credits:

Supreme Court – Encyclopedia Britannica

Justices – The U.S. Supreme Court

Donald Trump and Neil Gorsuch – Vanity Fair February 2017

Scale of Justice – http://www.criminaljustice.com

 

 

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