There's a lot at stake in the 2016 presidential election. While Supreme Court nominations may not be the most headline-grabbing stories that come out of a presidency, they probably should be. With Supreme Court justices serving for life and having significant power in interpreting laws that affect our daily lives, the importance of Court appointments cannot be overstated.
This election, in particular, could shape up to be one of the most important elections in terms of shaping the Court in American history. After Justice Scalia's death earlier this year, all but two Republicans in the U.S. Senate have sworn to prevent President Obama’s nominee--the eminently qualified Chief Justice Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit--from being considered at all during his presidency.
Here are just a few concerns of working people upon which the Supreme Court has ruled that make Court nominations important in the 2016 elections:
Workplace Fairness: A series of 5-4 decisions issued during the Roberts Court era have hurt working people and our rights on the job, making it harder to sue for pay and age discrimination, and weakening overtime protections. At the same time, the Court has made it easier for corporations to retaliate against and fire employees that report job bias claims, and easier for public employers to fire public employees for public statements made in the course of their duties.
Corporate Influence in Supreme Court Cases: A recent study found that between 2009-2012, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was the most likely petitioner to be granted a hearing by the Supreme Court. The Court was not only more likely to hear cases championed by the Chamber, it was more likely to decide in favor of the corporate interests the Chamber supported. And so, the Court has made it harder for average working people and consumers to sue corporations, like Comcast and Walmart, in class action lawsuits. At the same time, the Court has made it easier for some corporations to claim a religious exemption, enabling them not to provide insurance coverage for contraception for employees.
Voting Rights: In 2013, in another 5-4 decision of the Roberts Court, the Court issued a ruling that gutted the enforcement mechanism of the Voting Rights Act. This was almost immediately followed by states that were previously required, based on a history of discrimination, to get Department of Justice approval for changes to voting laws, passing a series of laws that made it harder for many, particularly African Americans, to vote. Republican-majority state legislatures passed laws shortening voting hours, eliminating early voting, and imposing other obstacles making it harder to register and vote. Some courts already have struck down these state laws as unconstitutional.
Deportation of Immigrants: Earlier this year, the Court effectively killed an executive order issued by President Obama that would have shielded as many as 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The U.S. Supreme Court deals with many issues that affect working people, including, but not limited to: education funding, Medicaid expansion, public funding of elections, solitary confinement of inmates, prison overcrowding, and many other issues. Elected presidents nominate Justices to the U.S. Supreme Court—and U.S. Supreme Court Justices rule on these concerns to working people—which is why the 2016 elections are so important.