© 2022 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Editorial Commentary: Ken Ciboski

Court Vacancy: Elections Have Consequences


The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has produced a more immediate and intense focus on the idea that elections have consequences. One consequence is the kind of federal judicial appointments a winning candidate for president is likely to make. This is why there is the issue of whether or not President Obama should make an appointment to the Supreme Court or leave it to the winner of the 2016 presidential election. 

Federal judicial appointments have become highly politicized affairs since the defeat of Judge Robert Bork’s nomination by President Reagan for the high court in 1987. Indeed, Bork was highly qualified, but his nomination was rejected because of his political philosophy and how he would make decisions as a sitting justice. In the eyes of many, the Supreme Court has made many controversial decisions. This is why the political philosophy of a nominee for the Supreme Court comes under intense scrutiny. Of course, presidents try to nominate a candidate whose political philosophy is similar to their own. 

Any nominee for a federal judgeship must secure approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The Republicans control the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that perhaps there is not enough time for the confirmation process to work before the November election. With the parties polarized in the Senate and the Republicans in the majority, there most likely would be a protracted confirmation process that would be a distraction in an election year. The majority coalition can slow down a nomination after approval by the Judiciary committee, and since this is a presidential election year, a Supreme Court nominee would have much less chance of being confirmed.