Court balance has been a steady if unremarkable secondary issue in recent presidential elections. In 2004 Democrats tried to mobilize their base by arguing GW Bush would put radical conservatives on the court. And in 2008 Republicans tried to woo their base to back McCain because he pledged to put “strong conservatives” on the Supreme Court if elected. Neither argument worked and both Bush and Obama were elected.
In his second term Bush appointed current Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito to fill vacancies. In his first term Obama has had the chance to fill two vacancies left by retiring left leaning Justices. Come 2013 if Obama is reelected he may have an even greater chance to reshape the court than in his first term. Between January 2013 and January 2016 three of the nine Supreme Court justices will exceed 80 years of age, liberal Ruth Bader Ginsberg in early 2013, conservative Antonin Scalia in 2016, and swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2015.
Obama has already left an indelible mark on the court. He is the only president to have nominated two women for the court and their age along with life-time appointments ensures they will be making policy through their rulings well into the future. Of course the same can be said of Bush’s nominees who are just as young as Kagen and Sotomeyer. Considering how many important rulings have come down the pike since 2010, such as Citizens United, the Court could dramatically reshape America’s political landscapes in the coming years.
This summer the SCOTUS is expected to rule on Healthcare Reform, particularly the Individual Mandate, as well as Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration enforcement law. Most regard the court as having a 4-4 tie between conservatives and liberals with Kennedy being the swing vote. But the truth is Kennedy is more of a conservative than not. This gives conservatives a leg up in shaping policy through Court rulings.