By Hunter Franklin ’19
The grueling election cycle is finally over and President Donald Trump will make an impactful decision on who will fill the empty Supreme Court Justice seat.
The first order of business for the next president will be to fill a vacant seat for the U.S. Supreme Court created by the death of 79 year old conservative Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.
President Barack Obama, nominated Merrick Garland in March but Senate Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings.
Currently the court operates with only eight of the nine jurists on the court. They are divided with four liberals, three conservative justices and one centrists Justice, Anthony Kennedy, who often sides with the conservatives.
This essentially leaves the court deadlocked at 4-4.
What does this mean for current students at Brophy?
The highest court in the United States, responsible for checking that every single law in the country is legal or not, will likely be conservative for the next 25-plus years.
“I think the Supreme Court Justices will really make major decisions upcoming,” said Michael Stein ’19 in September. “I think we’re really at a crossroads in our country and it can go one way or the other.
A Ninth Circuit Court judge said the current four-four split is problematic.
“In other words, no other court in the country is bound by the decision (of the Supreme Court) if it is a 4-4 split,” said Ninth Circuit Court Judge William Canby in an interview with The Roundup.
“There are a lot of important decisions that can’t be made definitely as long as there are only eight justices,” he added.
Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, would have almost certainly nominated a like-minded appointee to the court or push forward Merrick Garland’s nomination, tipping the scales to a 5-4 liberal majority for the first time since Ronald Reagan’s appointees firmly pushed the court conservative in the 1980s.
On the flip side, Trump, a nouveaux-Republican conservative, has already indicated his desire to nominate a conservative to the bench, leaving the court in conservative hands again at a 5-4 split.
This will be a fight between the executive and the legislative branch of government in the opening months of 2017.
“Legislation can always undo what the court does, that’s what people forget as the Supreme Court isn’t the supreme law and all they do is interpret and declare things constitutional or unconstitutional, so the legislature always has the power,” said Mr. Mike Welty, the head of Mock Trial Club and brother of an Arizona Judge.
Until the election some were hopeful the Senate would find a way to proceed.
” I suppose the Senate could meet in a lame duck session, after the election, and act on the current nomination of Judge Merrick Garland (who currently sits as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit),” Judge Canby said earlier this fall before the election about what could happen if Clinton won.
That is almost certain to not happen now.
Trump’s election may also shape the court beyond this one vacant seat.
For several years two of the more liberal justices, 83-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg and 78-year- old Stephen Breyer, both President Bill Clinton appointees, have been talking openly about their retirement.
“It’s likely that the next president, whoever she will be, will have a few appointments to make,” Ginsburg said in a recent Huffington Post article.
The 80-year-old centrist Justice Anthony Kennedy, and even the relatively young conservative Justice Clarence Thomas have both recently hinted in the press that retirement is possible.
So it is not out of the realm of possibility that the next president will have the responsibility of selecting three to four Supreme Court nominees in a first term.
“I still think they might choose someone in the middle even if Trump were to win….. Because even though Obama was very liberal he picked people who were in the middle,” said Adrian Borja ’17 while watching election returns in the Student Activity Center Nov. 8.
“It’s either going to hold us back and make things worse, or make things a lot more better than it is now,” he said about civil rights progress and the impending appointment.
In the future the court is likely to hear cases on immigration, same sex marriage, drug policy, terrorism, abortion and gun rights.
“I think it is more important for Democrats than it is Republicans to be able to appoint those three. And the reason I say that is most of the laws they want overturn could strengthened by the legislature,” Mr. Welty said in September.
Students recognize the potential impact the next justice will make “We were talking about this in Mr.Orem’s class about how if Trump’s elected he’s going to select Republican Judges that are pro-life whereas if Hillary wins she will pick judges that are pro choice,” said Ryan Garlic ’18.
With the country nearly evenly split in half for this past election with a razor-thin margin, Republicans rule the day, and will be in charge of guiding the makeup of the Supreme Court for decades.