The Importance of the Ninth Seat

We finally know what will happen with the ninth seat on the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced that we will find out who our next potential Associate Justice will be…next week. However, following this contentious election season, we found ourselves fighting over virtually all of President Trump’s appointees. We as a collective have spent more time arguing over Ben Carson’s qualifications and his appointment to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) than discussing the most impactful appointments: the open seat last occupied by the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

Granted, there are plenty of issues you may have regarding President Trump’s cabinet picks, but fixating on those seats is short-sighted. If you google the previous HUD Secretary, Julian Castro, you will find multiple articles about his violation of the Hatch Act (using an executive branch position for non-policy political activities, like campaigning) and one NPR article about Castro issuing new guidelines for landlords. Though this department rarely makes even low-level headlines, even the HUD position is getting more attention than the open Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) seat. Prior to Tuesday, the last major national publication dealing with Trump’s potential SCOTUS picks was the New York Times in November. Since then, each day detracts attention from a governmental branch that is currently weaker than it should be. The only person with the power to fix this is President Donald Trump.

Prior to Tuesday’s news, the only publications actively discussing the open seat, and those who will potentially fill it, are “politics junkie” outlets, such as Politico’s in their Jan. 3 article. Reading Politico’s list of potential nominees, none of which we’ve ever heard President Trump discuss, you will find several people still in their forties. The current court contains a few members at or over the age of 80, including Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, age 83. Justices serve lifetime appointments, meaning that if President Trump were to nominate one of his younger candidates, that person could have a profound impact on rulings for decades, well beyond the longest possible time frame of Trump’s presidency.

          The current court is likely to rule 4-4 on many cases. Chief Justice Robert’s court has consistently ruled 5-4 on highly-politicized cases, including Hobby Lobby (for-profit religious objection to contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act), Obergefell (gay marriage), Heller (gun rights) and the desperately-needing-a-shorthand-abbreviation National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (the case where the ACA was named a tax, not a fine, by Chief Justice Roberts). With Trump’s rhetoric and apparent personal beliefs, his choice is likely to be another Scalia-esque associate justice–essentially someone with deeply conservative views on both society and, of course, the constitution. Thus, we are likely to see another run of highly contentious and enormously important 5-4 court decisions in the coming years.

There are also many open federal judgeships across the country that need to be filled by executive appointments. Each of these appointments will have more power to impact the daily lives of Americans than Ben Carson ever could at HUD; and the total lack of concern and public vetting of the people who reportedly made the “shortlist,” is quite concerning.

Brandon Wood is a College junior from Northridge, Massachusetts.

         

 

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