The Supreme Court Just Reminded America What's Really at Stake in 2016

Source: AP
Source: AP

In the past two days, the Supreme Court has handed down two blockbuster decisions that have immediately transformed the American political landscape. On Thursday, they voted to protect the Affordable Care Act from a legal challenge that threatened to destroy the greatest expansion of health care since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. On Friday, they legalized same-sex marriage across the United States.

The decisions should remind us that at a time of acute disillusionment with party politics and Washington's inability to accomplish anything of consequence, elections are still of monumental importance in determining the course of the nation. The winner of the 2016 presidential election matters a great deal, if only for the justices they nominate for the Supreme Court.

The next president could end up appointing as many as four justices to the Supreme Court while in the White House — which could transform the political dynamics of Washington for years to come. 

The effects of 2008: President Barack Obama was criticized by progressives for not coming out in favor of marriage equality in 2008, and taking many years to "evolve" on the issue at a painfully slow pace. Had Obama been a stronger advocate for same-sex marriage earlier on, perhaps the country would have evolved more quickly as well. 

President Barack Obama walks to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2015, to make a statement after the Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples have the right to marry anywhere in the United States. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Source: 
Susan Walsh/AP

But it's also worth thinking about Obama's contribution to the reality of same-sex marriage today in terms of his two Supreme Court appointments. The margin by which same-sex marriage prevailed, 5-4, was one vote. Had Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won the presidency in 2008, it's quite likely that it would have swung the other way.  

The future of the court: The Supreme Court has a narrow conservative majority, and given the old age of a number of justices on the high court, it's possible that the next president could have the opportunity to entirely reshape the composition of the court. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 82, Antonin Scalia is 79, Anthony Kennedy is 78 and Stephen Breyer is 76. That's four potential seats that could open up under the next president's tenure. Three of them are reliable liberal votes, meaning a Republican president could potentially tip the balance of the court to the right by nominating conservative replacements. Such a move would have ramifications for years to come.

That's important to keep in mind as we approach 2016. Americans' faith in government is extremely low. Citizens were so uninspired by their representatives that the last election had worse turnout than any other since World War II. Political polarization has made the legislative process an ugly sight. The likelihood of a Bush-Clinton showdown reeks of dynastic politics.

But even if all these things continue to be true, it's difficult to overstate the effects of that the next candidate will have through their judicial nominees. At the moment, both Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have said they consider a commitment to overturning Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations to join the political fray, to be a litmus test for any candidate they'd consider. Considering that Americans currently think that money in politics is the most pressing concern in the run-up to the 2016 elections, that's worth taking into account as they eye the voting booth with a sense of apathy.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Zeeshan Aleem

Zeeshan is a senior staff writer at Mic, covering public policy and national politics. He is based in New York and can be reached at zeeshan@mic.com.

MORE FROM

8 of the biggest moments from the 48th NYC LGBT Pride March

The biggest Pride event in the world was a sight to behold.

Movement for Black Lives activists disrupt Minneapolis Pride to protest Philando Castile verdict

Protesters reportedly held signs with messages like "No KKKops at Pride."

Protesters reportedly arrested near NYC's Stonewall Inn, Pride March endpoint

The reason for the arrests were not immediately known.

Marchers arrested in Istanbul as Pride parade continues despite cancellation

The organizers' decision to move forward with the previously cancelled march led to clashes with police.

Car slams into Eid celebrants in UK, injuring 6; police say terrorism isn't suspected

Police say they believe an Eid celebrant was behind the wheel of the car that injured six outside a mosque.

Oil truck explodes in Pakistan, killing at least 153

The deadly fire broke out as residents rushed to collect the leaking oil from the overturned tanker.

8 of the biggest moments from the 48th NYC LGBT Pride March

The biggest Pride event in the world was a sight to behold.

Movement for Black Lives activists disrupt Minneapolis Pride to protest Philando Castile verdict

Protesters reportedly held signs with messages like "No KKKops at Pride."

Protesters reportedly arrested near NYC's Stonewall Inn, Pride March endpoint

The reason for the arrests were not immediately known.

Marchers arrested in Istanbul as Pride parade continues despite cancellation

The organizers' decision to move forward with the previously cancelled march led to clashes with police.

Car slams into Eid celebrants in UK, injuring 6; police say terrorism isn't suspected

Police say they believe an Eid celebrant was behind the wheel of the car that injured six outside a mosque.

Oil truck explodes in Pakistan, killing at least 153

The deadly fire broke out as residents rushed to collect the leaking oil from the overturned tanker.