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The next President may shape SCOTUS decisions for decades

William O. Douglas spent more than 36 years on the US Supreme Court.  No one has served longer.  But he is one of 14 Justices who served more than 30 years.

In the history of the country, only 112 persons have been appointed to the court.  Putting those facts together, 12.5 percent of the justices ever appointed to the Court served more than 30 years.

Forty-two of those appointed, 37.5 percent, served more than 20 years. Well over half (62) served at least 15 years.  Fifteen years is almost the duration of four presidential terms of office.

The Court’s current caseload totals more than 10,000 cases per year. The caseload has been increasing in recent years, but if it stabilized at the currnt level,  a justice serving 15 years would have an opportunity to hear and help determine the outcome of 150,000 cases.

Four of the current Justices are at an age where they might begin to consider retirement. Stephen Breyer is only 74 (as of August 15). Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy are both 76. Ruth Bader Ginsburg turns 80 next March.  The average age for retirement, according to a study in 2006, is 78.7.

Scalia and Kennedy are both Reagan appointees. Breyer and Ginsburg were appointed by Bill Clinton.  While Scalia is a deeply conservative “originalist”, Kennedy has tended to be a swing vote. Breyer and Ginsburg anchor the more moderate wing. Arguably, no current Justice could be called  a “liberal” in the mold of former Chief Justice Douglas, who led the Court in 1954, when it ruled that segregated schools were inherently unequal.

Many recent decisions have been decided by a 5-4 split, so if the next president names even one new member to the Court, it will be a crucial  appointment, strengthening either the moderates or the conservatives.

As Reuters reported April 19, 2012:

“… Romney has pledged to nominate judges in the mold of the Supreme Court’s four most conservative justices, and he has said the court should overrule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 opinion that said women have a right to an abortion.

Romney formed a committee of lawyers in August 2011 to advise him on court nominations and on legal policy questions led by prominent conservatives such as Robert Bork, whose conservative views led Democrats to block his 1987 nomination to the court.”

So, a Romney appointment could make the Court the most conservative in history.How would it rule on marriage equality?  We could find out next year.

Other issues almost certainly to destined for challenge in the future include the abridgement of abortion rights,  voting rights, access to birth control, hidden campaign donors and other consequences of Citizens United, plus issues related to immigration.

But who can predict the crucial issues to be decided during the 20 years or more likely to be served by  any justices appointed  by the next President of the United States? If you care about the consequences of decisions both now and  in the future, the Supreme Court becomes one of the most important issues to be considerd before casting your vote November 6.

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