Trump or Clinton could select four new justices

anthony-kennedy scalia stephen-bryer ruth-bader-ginsburg

After a long year of political campaigning and fist fighting, voting day is less than a week away. While this election cycle has highlighted many issues, one issue is that of naming future Supreme Court justices. Donald  Trump or Hillary Clinton will have the opportunity to potentially appoint two to four Supreme Court justices during his or her presidency.

At any given time, there are nine Supreme Court justices sitting on the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States. These justices serve a life term, meaning they have the power to influence litigation over their lifetime.  However, one seat has been left empty this past year. Antonin Scalia served as a justice on the Supreme Court from 1986 until his death in 2016. According to the Weekly Standard, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland as Scalia’s successor, but the Senate has yet to make a decision.

According to the New York Times, the Senate is waiting on a decision until the next president is in power.

That being said, Trump or Clinton will nominate the next Supreme Court justice. But there is a catch. Not only will Trump or Clinton choose Scalia’s replacement, but they may also choose the next three Supreme Court justices. There are currently three Supreme Court justices that could die during the next presidency: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, Stephen Breyer, 78, and Anthony Kennedy, 80. The next President of the United States is left to nominate his or her replacements and the Senate to approve the appointments.

If these individuals do die in the next term, many voters suspect that Clinton will appoint four liberal justices and that Trump would appoint four conservative justices. While justices are supposed to remain moderate, many align with a political party. Citizens are concerned that if Clinton wins and nominates four liberals, the Supreme Court would be comprised of six liberal justices and three conservative justices. Whereas citizens are concerned that if Trump wins, the Supreme Court will be seven conservative justices and two liberal justices.

In the third and last presidential debate, Republican candidate Trump addressed his decision regarding the Supreme Court.

Photos courtesy of U.S. Supreme Court catalog

Photos courtesy of U.S. Supreme Court catalog

“The justices that I am going to appoint will be pro-life,” Trump said. “They will have a conservative bent. They will be protecting the second amendment. […] They will interpret the Constitution the way the founders wanted it interpreted, and I believe that’s very important.”

At the University of San Diego, some students argue that this is the reason why voting is so important.

Senior Brendan Sullivan explained that this ballot goes beyond electing the president.

“Americans must recognize that their vote will have an impact far beyond the term limits of any president,” Sullivan said. “Legal precedent and the momentous Supreme Court rulings that could be decided in the near future will determine the trajectory of our country in the 21st century.”

Sullivan cited a recent Supreme Court decision and its impact on the nation.

“The decisions made by the Supreme Court can have sweeping change on the country as a whole,” Sullivan said. “Last year, the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges made the legalization of same-sex marriage the law of the land. This is one of the most consequential decisions made by the court in recent years, and there are many more issues of similar national prominence that could be decided by the Supreme Court.”

Many are concerned about the political stance of the justices. While justices are considered unbiased, they also have political sway. Sullivan explained how this could affect the voting decision as well.

“Even more insidious, however, is the notion that our future president could stack the courts with politically-inclined judges,” Sullivan said. “In this time of polarized politics, maintaining the impartiality of the bench is crucial to ensuring a healthy balance in our nation’s halls of power.”

Sullivan explained that, while the Supreme Court is not on the ballot, many other things will be up for decision come November.

“Pick an issue, any issue,” Sullivan said. “If you care about it, it’s on the ballot in this election. So get out and vote.”

As election day draws nearer, students are trying to grasp the many issues on the ballot this year.

Sullivan explained that it is difficult for anyone to grasp the full extent of the choices voters will make.

“The long-term impact of this election will likely be the Supreme Court justices appointed to the bench and the future legal decisions they will make,” Sullivan said. “It is impossible for one to fully comprehend the seriousness of this election without accounting for the impending changes to the Supreme Court.”

Junior Hunter Parkinson agreed with Sullivan and said he is worried about the amount of power the open seat offers.

“Our parties are at intense extremes,” Parkinson said. “And whoever becomes president will gain the most power for [his or her] party we have seen in a long time.”

Parkinson also expressed his concern of being represented in the democratic process.

“We should care [about who becomes president] because the justices appointed are the direct results of our views [as a country],” Parkinson said. “We could experience a rapid shift in how this country interprets the Constitution, or what is even considered constitutional. I’m sure there are many people from both parties that are afraid they won’t have a voice on the issues that matter to them.”

Senior Kaylan Rothrock expressed her concern about Trump.

“We have made such progress in the past few years, with things such as gay marriage, that if Trump gets elected and brings in at least four conservative justices, our country will be at a gridlock, and the progress our nation is making will diminish,” Rothrock said.

Many voters may not align with either presidential candidate, instead preferring to vote to keep the power of the seat within their political party. The strategic positioning of the Supreme Court within the U.S. government’s system of checks and balances makes this 2016 election the fiercest battle for the court since President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed the five “New Deal Justices” in 1937. These justices led the United States on a path of progressive legislation, providing U.S. citizens social security and a federal minimum wage. This coming era of justice may take America in many different directions.

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