The SCOTUS Knight Rises

With one week until the election, President Donald Trump has successfully appointed lawyer, professor and judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS).

Most likely, Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Barrett will serve 35 years on average-along with other justices appointed from 2017 to 2117, according to the Harvard Business Review. Added together, that’s 105 years of service.

Even if the president loses on November 3rd, the three justices he has appointed will influence American society and politics for years to come.

How does Mr. Trump’s SCOTUS appointments stack up next to other presidents? Fox29 Philadelphia made a nice, easy to follow list of the number of successful appointments by president. Wikipedia (who else, right?) has every justice with how long they’ve served, which helped me make some calculations.

Unsurprisingly, our first president George Washington appointed the most justices with eight, as he had to fill the entire court. The longest serving? William Cushing, with 20 years of service. The shortest? Thomas Johnson with 138 days, the shortest-serving justice in U.S. history.

Back in 1787, life expectancy was 38 for a white male, and if you survived to 60, you had a good shot of making in to 75. However, there’s no denying that life expectancy was shorter than it is today. Despite President Washington having the greatest number of SCOTUS appointments, his served a grand total of about 82 years.

Number #2 on the SCOTUS sweepstakes goes to FDR. The four times elected president appointed eight. They served a total of 137 years. Life expectancy throughout FDR’s presidency of 1933–1945 ranged from 60–65. Due to increasing life expectancy, the growing importance of the court and political polarization, Mr. Trump’s three appointees will most likely serve only 30 years less than FDR’s eight.

Looking at modern presidents, Presidents Reagan and Nixon tied Mr. Trump at three, while Obama, Bush Jr., and Bush Sr. each appointed two, Ford appointed one and Carter appointed none.

Mr. Trump has become a SCOTUS Knight for parts of the Right, especially the religious.

Despite having won the SCOTUS game, as I like to call it, Republicans are not content to sit on their laurels, already flipping out about potential court packing if VP Biden is elected. Republican Senate leaders proposed a constitutional amendment to ban the procedure.

The whole hullabaloo reminds me of 2013, a distant memory of the pre-Trump political sphere. Then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid enacted the “nuclear option” so that “nominees for cabinet posts and federal judgeships could be confirmed with just 51 votes.” Republicans freaked out, referring to Mr. Reid as a bully, calling the gesture a disgusting power grab and warning it could lead to tyranny of the majority.

Then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “You’re going to regret this and you may regret it sooner than you think.” Flash forward to 2017, in which Mr. McConnell and the Republicans, now controlling the Senate, extended the nuclear option to SCOTUS appointments to end debate on then nominee Gorsuch. In the end, enacting the nuclear option assisted the Republicans more than the Democrats. Since 2017, both Justice Kavanaugh and Barrett have been confirmed by 52 votes, which would not have been possible without Senator Reid’s first step in 2013.

I see a similar outcome with court-packing. President Biden could pack the court and beat the Republicans at their own game. Alternatively, Republicans will act as if the end of the world has arrived. Either way, they aren’t stupid. They’ll find a way to work the rule to their advantage, counter court-packing or something akin to it, or passing an amendment so it doesn’t happen again, as they did with the 22nd Amendment to prevent another FDR from electorally dominating them for years.

The situation strongly reminds me of the ending scene of the 2005 film Batman Begins. In it, Batman discusses ridding Gotham City of crime with police Lieutenant Gordon:

B: We can bring Gotham back.

G: What about escalation?

B: Escalation?

G: We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds.

Both parties have been able and will be able to adapt to aggressive, partisan measures. The problem is escalation- once you’ve opened the door to last minute appointments before elections and court packing, what’s next?

We need a caped crusader-a different Knight- to rise up and stop some political shenanigans.

Can anyone set up the Bat-Signal?

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Patrick McCorkle

Patrick McCorkle

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I am a recent college graduate with a major in Political Science, History and Spanish who has a keen interest in politics. theprimacyofpolitics.blogspot.com