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A Supreme Court Vacancy

created Apr 04, 2017 12:58 PM

With the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, the nation’s highest court is in need of a new member. Per the Constitution, this process calls for a nomination from the president, followed by a review and vote from the Senate. Justices are appointed for life, and on average, spend decades making decisions on matters of great concern to the country. The Supreme Court weighs in on such issues as immigration, health care, same-sex marriage, gun control, climate change, abortion, unions, among other contentious issues.

The Court now has eight justices, four conservative and four liberal, making the next appointment critical in creating a majority stance. Until a new justice is seated, cases may end in a tie vote. In these instances, the justices can either call for a re-argument of the case at a later date, or allow the ruling of the lower court that last heard the case to serve as the final decision. Supreme Court decisions are extremely influential because they create guidelines followed by all other courts in the nation, and set precedents for future Supreme Court decisions as well.

Because of the stakes involved, the vacancy created by Scalia’s death has led to a contentious exchange in the U.S. Senate. In anticipation of the 2016 election, Republican senators refused to hold nomination hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. This tactic led to a successful blocking of Obama’s nominee, leaving the new president the opportunity to name his own nominee. President Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch, who appeared before the Senate for hearings in March 2017. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the nomination later this week.

See our entire issue on nominating a Supreme Court justice, including historic primary sources and classroom activities.