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Supreme Court To Begin New Term Short-Handed As Its Ideological Balance Hinges On Fall Vote


washingtonpost-articleThe following is an excerpt from Robert Barnes | October 1, 2016 | Washingtonpost.com |

The Supreme Court’s new term begins Monday with the focus not on the court’s docket but on the court itself and a future that will be defined by the presidential election.

For the first time in decades, there will be only eight justices, not nine, to begin the new term. Also absent are the kind of big-ticket cases — involving immigration reform, affirmative action, abortion, same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act — that in recent years have catapulted the Supreme Court to the fore of American civic life.

Instead, the short-handed court has assembled a docket of more-modest cases — albeit ones that touch on contemporary controversies such as the role of race in criminal justice and politics, free speech and perhaps the treatment of transgender students.

Of far greater consequence is the fate of the court’s ideological balance. And on that question, the court finds itself like the rest of the country: waiting to see what happens on Nov. 8.

It has been nearly a half-century since a presidential election promised such an immediate impact on the court. Senate Republicans have refused to take up President Obama’s choice of Judge Merrick Garland for the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, arguing that a newly elected president should fill that vacancy.

As of Sunday, Garland has been waiting 200 days for the Senate to act on his nomination. Obama tapped Garland a month after Scalia’s death in February. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been adamant that the Senate will not even hold a hearing on Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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