The High Court Vacancy Explained (in 250 Words)

No. 1: No nominee for the high court can get through the Senate before the election. No one.

No. 2: President Obama and the Democratic candidates for president know that. So do Republicans. All God’s children know it.

No. 3: Since the nominee will not be approved, Obama will use the opportunity to advance other goals. He will propose someone who burnishes his own progressive credentials and shows why control of the court depends on the November election. Putting Senate Republicans in an awkward position would be a nice bonus. But the target is November.

No. 4: Obama will nominate someone whose demographic characteristics help in the contests for president and U.S. Senate. That is not just his main criterion. It is his only one. The candidate could be from a purple state. Or a Latino. Or openly gay. Having finished law school would be a plus.

No. 5: The proposed candidate will not receive a Senate vote before the election or in the lame-duck session. If Mitch McConnell even considered it, he would become the former majority leader.

No. 6: Democrats and Republicans will both use the issue to show voters why it is crucial to elect them — and not the other party. Democrats will add that this again shows we have a “do nothing” Congress. Republicans will say it shows we have “do too much” judges.

No. 7: All the rest is political theater, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


RCP contributor Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science and the founder and director of the Program on International Politicis, Economics and Security at the University of Chicago. He can be reached

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