The political delay in appointing a ninth justice to the Supreme Court after the death of Antonin Scalia has turned the remaining eight justices into lame ducks whose polarized opinions, while perhaps reflecting the growing polarization of the country, are affecting their ability to do their jobs. The Supreme Court is currently scheduled to hear only a dozen cases over the next year, the lightest caseload since WWII. It seems the justices are actively voting against hearing more cases in order to avoid further deadlocked rulings on a number of heavily politicized issues in an election year. But their reluctance, as well as Republican opposition to Obama’s SCOTUS nominee, means that justice is being delayed for millions of Americans.
This year the Supreme Court was unable to move on a number of issues including a case on public unions financing, a death penalty appeal and a religious challenge to Obamacare, leading to a ton of wasted hours, paperwork and legal fees. Messy immigration and abortion cases that are coming up are also likely end in a tied vote or a non-decision, pointing to the fact that the Supreme Court is now crippled and is likely to remain that way for many months.
Adding to the drama this week is Donald Trump’s list of the dozen judges he would consider nominating as President, a calculated move meant to shore up Republican support (FYI it seems to be working). But the Democrats are unlikely to play nice especially since they are fighting to get a hearing for Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland. Such overt politicization of the law is clearly dangerous for the perceived accountability and transparency of the institution, so what’s the solution?
The most logical answer also seems like the most obvious: hire more justices. With more justices on the bench, more cases could be heard and less pressure would be placed on filling vacancies or appeasing partisan politicians, which would hopefully allow for the court to function more smoothly. Alternatively, set term limits on justice appointments so that a regular turnover ensures a healthy mix of experience and beliefs. But in the meantime the question still remains: how long do millions of Americans have to wait in order to receive justice at the hands of a stifled system? Unfortunately, the jury’s still out.
Love a good courtroom drama? Think you can handle the truth? Movie for your mood: A Few Good Men