It's always five to four at the Supreme Court, and NOT because the clocks have stopped... although some might argue that the clocks will soon be turned back:
"In a 5 to 4 decision today, the Supreme Court ruled..."
You've probably seen or heard countless headlines like that one over the years. As it turns out, the fifth vote in those 5 to 4 decisions often belonged to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who, at age 81, announced that he would soon go into retirement.
Whether by accident or design, Justice Kennedy became known as the voice of moderation and sanity among the nine Supreme Court judges. His admirers say it's because he tempered his respect for the Constitution with compassion and basic common sense. His detractors say it's because he was perpetually wishy-washy and could never decide on a consistent legal philosophy or worldview. In his three decades on the High Court, he often surprised -- and infuriated -- both progressives and conservatives alike, sometimes in the course of the same legal opinion.
In any event, this leaves the President with another Supreme Court vacancy to fill. Mr. Trump already has a short list of very conservative jurists and other prominent people, and he has indicated he wants a rapid hearing and confirmation vote.
The Democrats in the Senate are furious. They remember how GOP Senators endlessly sandbagged Merrick Garland (nominated by President Obama), and now their Republican colleagues want to get the opening filled ASAP. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and numerous other Dems accuse Republicans of shameless hypocrisy; Mr. Schumer insists, at the very least, the confirmation process be held after the November election, so that the Senate would more accurately reflect the feelings of the nation's voters. The Republicans don't want to risk becoming the minority, so they want to push ahead at top speed.
Liberal and progressive activists are worried, particularly abortion rights activists who believe that any confirmed Trump nominee would oppose the landmark Roe v Wade decision of 1973, which effectively made abortion legal nationwide. A case to challenge that ruling would likely hit the court's docket very quickly if one of President Trump's nominees is confirmed. The final decision could very well be 5 to 4 again... but which way is the clock moving?
Personally, I like the idea of a Supreme Court Justice who tempers his respect for the Constitution with compassion and basic common sense, and I wouldn't mind seeing a panel of nine judges who think that way... but what do I know?