The Grim Future of the Supreme Court

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Dick Lugar, just about the last moderate Republican standing in the Senate, lost his primary bid for reelection tonight. Jon Chait notes one of the reasons why:

The most important and alarming facet of Lugar’s defeat, and a factor whose importance is being overlooked at the moment, is one of the reasons Mourdock cited against him: Lugar voted to confirm two of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees.

….The social norm against blocking qualified, mainstream Supreme Court nominees is one of the few remaining weapons the Republican Party has left lying on the ground. But if Republican Senators attribute Lugar’s defeat even in part to those votes for Kagan and Sotomayor, which seems to be the case, what incentive do they have to vote for another Obama nominee? And then what will happen if he gets another vacancy to fill — will Republican Senators allow him to seat any recognizably Democratic jurist? Especially as the Supreme Court interjects itself more forcefully into partisan disputes like health care, will it become commonplace for the Court to have several vacancies due to gridlock, for the whole legitimacy of the institution to collapse?

Good question. Supreme Court nominations have been getting steadily more partisan for the past three decades. Setting aside Clarence Thomas, who’s clearly an outlier, take a look at the number of opposing votes that nominees have received since the mid-80s. Scalia and Kennedy received zero opposing votes. Souter received 9. Ginsburg received 3 and Breyer received 9. Roberts received 22 and Alito 42. Sotomayor received 31 and Kagan 37. We’re already damn close to the day when Supreme Court nominees are approved (or not) on straight party-line votes.

That’s unworkable, of course, which means that either the trend toward strict party discipline reverses at some point, or else the Senate changes its rules. At the moment, I’d bet on the latter.

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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