Why This Presidential Election Counts More Than Most

December 12, 2011


By Steven Long

HOUSTON, – The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments brought by Democrats on the GOP’s efforts to stack the deck in the Texas Legislature. My guess is that the prospects aren’t good for overturning the Republican redistricting plan considering recent rulings and the still oozing judicial disgrace of Bush vs. Gore.

We constantly see 5/4 decisions on the court pitting its conservative majority against the liberal minority with a swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, usually tilting with his fellow Republicans on the right. Yet this is an election year and the court isn’t getting any younger. That’s what makes 2012 so incredibly vital to both sides.

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We aren’t hearing much of what an Obama victory, or a Republican gaining the White, would do to issues large and small that affect public policy and hence, our daily lives.

There is hardly any doubt the next president will make one or more appointments to the court during the next administration.

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Doing research for my 1987 book, Death Without Dignity, I studied gerontology.

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I know a bit about actuarial tables, not as much as insurance companies, but a bit. The clock is ticking loudly for four justices who are in their 70s, and faint ticks can be heard coming from the lifespan clocks of two others who are about a decade younger.

Antonin Scalia will be 76 in March as will Anthony Kennedy in July.

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Both are Republican appointees placed on the bench by President Ronald Reagan. Democrat Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 79, and Stephen Breyer will be 74. Those two are Clinton appointees. All have reached, or are rapidly reaching, the lifespan threshold set last year by the U.S. Census Bureau of 76.5 for white males and 81.3 for white females.

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The prospects of an appointment increases each day.

And the clock loudly ticks for the court’s lone black male, Clarence Thomas. The bureau said guys in his demographic could die at an average age of 70.2 years.  Thomas will reach 64 next year and and his colleague Sam Alito

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will turn 62.

The remaining justices are comparative children, and barring unforeseen illness, they will all remain on the bench for decades.  Supreme Court justices tend to live a long time, evidence the recently retired liberal Republican John Paul Stevens who left the court at a spry 90 years of age and continues to be active in retirement.

Yet the odds are in favor of the next president making one or more appointments to the court. If there are two it could set the course for American jurisprudence well into the early 21st century.

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