Supreme Court Justice Scalia has died suddenly–hard to exaggerate the importance of this turn of events for the Presidential election. It is well worth pausing to consider how this might change the overall debate.
In the GOP primary, we can expect a contest to see who can praise Scalia the most, coupled with fantastical claims about how criminally unconstitutional the Obama administration has been. No big surprises, here.
Given that the GOP has a debate starting very soon, it’s likely the candidates will spend a great deal of time praising Caesar in their opening statements. One can hear the statements even before they happen:
Trump: I knew Scalia very well, he wrote some of my favorite opinions, huge Scalia fan.
Cruz: I will shut down the government to stop Obama’s nominee.
Rubio: Barack Obama is willfully violating the constitution.
Kasich: In my first 100 days I will appoint 100 Scalias to the Supreme Court.
Bush: I’ve been saying Scalia was great for years, nobody listened to me.
Carson: I will reappoint Anton Scalia to the Supreme Court.
Overall, Scalia’s death will provide a moment of unity for the GOP, but will probably benefit Cruz because his sanctimonious jingoism is best suited for postmortem encomium.
In the Democratic primary, the change in the debate will be more subtle.
Sanders will likely pivot from Scalia’s death to the question of Citizens United. He has already promised to appoint justices whose judicial philosophies make them likely to rule against the landmark money in politics ruling. It would be surprising if he did not return to those points.
Clinton already has a far reaching argument about the Supreme Court in her campaign, often citing it as a major reason to consider “electability” in the general election when thinking about one’s vote in the primary.
Another idea circulating amongst Clinton’s supporters in particular is a scenario whereby after she wins, she appoints President Obama to the Court. I am not sure where or when this idea firs took shape–it’s hard to imagine it actually happening. But it suggests that Clinton supporters are thinking more about their candidate as the best suited to hold the Supreme Court.
It’s no wonder the supreme court has become one of the most emotionally resonant arguments from the Clinton camp and is often connected to talk of women’s rights. It would be surprising if Clinton did not invoke strongly in the next few days.
Overall, the Supreme Court is an issue that the Clinton camp invokes to create a sense of trepidation about Sanders, whereas Sanders invokes it to rally people to their broader theme of getting big money out of politics.