Tag Archives: Constitution

Vacancy Cycle

An elephant representing the Grand Old Party (GOP) refuses to confirm Supreme Court vacancies until a Republican president is elected.

 

The conflict of “separation of powers” is one that exists epically in American history. Generations of Americans have witnessed the battle of the Supreme Court to maintain its position as a non-partisan institution: fighting off threats from other branches of government to influence it with politics. One example occurred in 1937, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt unsuccessfully proposed the Judicial Procedures Reform Act of 1937 to implant support for his legislation into the courts. The Supreme Court maintained its position, and the resulting conflict was documented by the press, such as in a cartoon by John Knott and in an editorial appearing in the Dallas Morning News. Another confrontation in more recent memory was between a Republican controlled United States Senate and President Barack Ob ama over the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice to fill the vacancy left by Justice’s Antonin Scalia’s sudden death in February of 2016. The refusal of the Senate to hold even a hearing for Merrick Garland, a nominee who had broad bi-partisan support, resulted in a similar anticipation of disaster and destruction of convention by the press. Particularly, the threat of a problematic cycle which would undermine the political institution in which the average Supreme Court Justice confirmation took 25 days (“How Scalia Compared With Other Justices”) was satirized in the same way be the respective medias of each time, as explored through a Mike Luckovich cartoon and a Politco article describing the tension in attempting to secure the Supreme Court vacancy.

In the final months of Barack Obama’s second term as president, he tried to secure a Supreme Court nomination to fill the seat left behind by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016. However, due to a political interest in nominating a Supreme Court Justice who would represent the values of the GOP rather than Obama’s Democratic party, the Senate refused to approve the nominations proposed by Obama. Historically, the Supreme Court has had a reputation of high esteem in the public view, as it has the final say of the law and the Justice holds their position until they either retire or die. The conflict of failing to secure a nomination to fill the vacancy created anxiety amongst the American public and press, as this sort of political pandering over something as pure as the Supreme Court was seemingly unprecedented.

This anxiety is illustrated in a March 11, 2016 cartoon by Mike Luckovich called “The Court”. The two-panel cartoon depicts the strategy led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and the Republican controlled Senate at the time. In the first panel, an elephant wearing a suit, which represents the GOP, states “I’ll ignore the Constitution and block filling the Supreme Court vacancies until there’s a GOP President…” The second panel of the cartoon shows the same elephant standing in a court room, and the bench labeled “Supreme Court”, is completely vacant with spider webs between the vacant seats. The calendar on the wall has the year “2036”, on it, and the elephant has his finger’s crossed and eyes closed, saying “…C’mon 2040…”. The cobwebs also suggest that this stubbornness will inhibit the nomination of not only the vacancy that existed in 2016, but all other vacancies which would eventually present themselves over the course of 20 years. The cartoon therefore suggests that the refusal of the Senate to confirm a nomination in 2016 would continue into 2036 and onwards until a GOP president is elected to nominate a viable judge.

This viewpoint is also articulated in a Politco article from March 29, 2016 called “The Supreme Court: The Nightmare Scenario”. In it, Richard Primus describes the threat of a devolution of political convention with the stagnancy of filling the Supreme Court vacancy. He states:

“That bigger threat is this: The stalemate isn’t time-limited and it isn’t stable. It could last a lot longer than the present election cycle, and if it does, the conflict over Justice Scalia’s successor could escalate far beyond its current dimensions. This is because the Supreme Court’s role in American government rests on a set of conventions for avoiding all-out political conflict—and once those conventions start to crumble, there’s no way to tell how it will end,” (Primus).

Specifically, a nightmare scenario would in theory be possible, though not necessarily probable, where the Republican Senate would continue to refuse to confirm a Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton if she ario does not occur exactly, the threat of the destruction of political conventions by escalating a conflict in attempting to control the courts is made visible both by the article and the cartoon.

There are some interesting parallels between FDR’s attempt to expand the number of nominations possible to be made and the Republican Senate’s attempt to wait for a Republican nomination in that both were efforts to control the political leanings of the Supreme Court. Specifically, both the Luckovich and Knott cartoons satirized a very immediate and visible result of the respective breaches in power. While the Knott cartoon emphasized that the expansion of FDR’s power would manifest itself through unprecedented third term ambitions, the Luckovich cartoon suggests an eternal vacancy in the Supreme Court due to the stubbornness of a GOP Senate. The most important difference between the two cartoons, however, is the accuracy of their respective predictions. FDR did end up running for and winning a third term, but the GOP did not have to wait until past 2036 for a Republican president: Donald Trump was elected in 2016.

The difference between the Dallas Morning News editorial and the Politico article is the opposite of what occurred between the two cartoons. The 2016 article was a better descriptor of long term implications of the Senate refusal to confirm a Supreme Court vacancy than the editorial was in articulating the long-term implications of “The Judicial Procedures Reforms Bill of 1937”. The editorial suggested that the bill represented a descent into totalitarianism, and today it is known that FDR’s passage of the New Deal did not totally undermine American democracy. However, the observation that the GOP Senate’s behavior represented an escalation which would manifest into the issues of checks and balances beyond 2016 was more accurate. The failure to confirm a Supreme Court Justice nomination did leave only 8 Justices, allowing for 4-4 deadlock votes to occur. For example, the deadlocked vote for United States v. Texas, No. 15-674 allowed for Obama’s executive order to retain over 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to stand without official support from the Supreme Court (“Supreme Court Justice”).

The fact that it took about four months to confirm President Donald Trump’s nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch galvanized the infamy of the Senate’s actions in 2016 to hold the Supreme Court seat open for record breaking amount of time (Berenson 2017). The disruption caused by the actions by the Senate alluded to the abilities for political branches to manipulate the processes of the Supreme Court. Unlike the historians who observe FDR’s actions in 1937, contemporaries can only wait to understand the full contribution to political procedures the Supreme Court vacancy of 2016 had to the American separation of powers.

Works Cited

Berenson, Tessa. “Neil Gorsuch Confirmed: How His Nomination Changed Politics.” Time, Time, 7 Apr. 2017, time.com/4730746/neil-gorsuch-confirmed-supreme-court-year/.

“How Scalia Compared With Other Justices.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Feb. 2016, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/02/13/us/how-long-does-it-take-to-confirm-a-supreme-court-nominee.html.

Primus, Richard. “The Supreme Court: The Nightmare Scenario.” POLITICO Magazine, 29 Mar. 2016, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/03/the-supreme-court-the-nightmare-scenario-213776.

“Supreme Court Justice.” American Law Yearbook 2016A Guide to the Year’s Major Legal Cases and Developments, Gale, 2017, pp. 208-212. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3633800087&it=r&asid=2c6733a6ed017fe3cf7720b2457fb9fc. Accessed 15 Nov. 2017.

Supreme Court Upholds ObamaCare

Signe Wilkinson for the Philadelphia Daily News published on June 29th, 2015, depicts two men rushing an injured and well-dressed elephant in a suit to an ambulance labeled “OBAMA CARE”.
Signe Wilkinson for the Philadelphia Daily News published on June 29th, 2015, depicts two men rushing an injured and well-dressed elephant in a suit to an ambulance labeled “OBAMA CARE”.

The political cartoon, Supreme Court Upholds ObamaCare, by Signe Wilkinson for the Philadelphia Daily News published on June 29th, 2015, depicts two men rushing an injured and well-dressed elephant in a suit to an ambulance labeled “OBAMA CARE”. One of the men can be seen to be carrying a gavel and wearing a robe, indicating he is a judge. The latter is seen wearing a suit and tie and can easily be identified as the current president at the time the cartoon was published, President Barack Obama. The judge in this scenario is a cartoon representation of the Chief of Justice of the time, John Roberts. The unconscious elephant being carried in the stretcher is representative of the Republican party, as the elephant is the symbol most associated with the Republicans. Wilkinson’s cartoon demonstrates the struggles ObamaCare faced against the Republican Party and the eventual defeat the Republicans experienced once the Act was ruled constitutional on more than one occasion despite the Republican Party’s efforts to repeal it at its inception.

The question of whether the United States should have a universal health-care system can be traced back to Harry S. Truman’s presidency in the mid 1940s. Truman proposed the idea of a universal healthcare system as he felt that it was an aspect that was not covered by the previous president, Franklin D Roosevelt, in his progressive New Deal legislation (Taylor). It was reintroduced in the early twentieth century and was revisited in the early 1990s during Bill Clinton’s first term as president. Claiming that it was one of his greatest goals, Clinton worked towards a health-care system, but was unable to obtain sufficient support to do so in his years as president. However, in the late 2000s, President Barack Obama built his presidential campaign to feature a health-care reform as its top priority. Elected as president in 2008 at a time when Democrats “controlled both houses of Congress,” Obama was successful at being able to gather the support needed in order to pass a health-care reform (“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”).

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare, was drafted with the purpose of providing Americans with better healthcare opportunities. Complete with a “Patient Bill of Rights,” the Affordable Care Act works to protect patients from mistreatment at the hands of insurance companies. According to the Act, insurance companies can no longer deny a patient coverage due to preexisting conditions. Additionally, patients are now given the right to protest and request to appeal a coverage decision made by an insurance company if the patient believes it to be unjust. In order to make healthcare more accessible to the American public, a government website, Healthcare.gov, was made in 2014 to allow people to browse and pick from different insurance plans coverages that would be accommodating to their needs and income. With the implementation of these sections of ObamaCare, the Obama Administration and Democrats alike hoped to bring affordable healthcare coverage to those that were in need and could not afford it beforehand (“Affordable Care Act”).

Although the Democratic Party held more seats in Congress than the Republicans, they were met with strict opposition from Republicans, who agreed a health-care reform was necessary as the Republican candidate who ran against Obama in 2008, John McCain, also ran a campaign with a focus on health-care reform, but disagreed with Obama’s Affordable Care Act. There was much debate between the two parties as they could not reach an agreement when Obama called for the Democrats to unite and pass the law quickly. The debate in the Senate was so extreme they met on Christmas Eve in efforts to pass the bill for the first time since 1895 (“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”). Obama successfully signed the Act as public law in March of 2010. However, the Republicans refused to admit defeat.

As soon as the act was passed, Republicans vowed to repeal it. Organizations and citizens called for the Supreme Court to review it, as they challenged the constitutionality of the act. The Court agreed to review the Act in 2011 and ruled most of the Act constitutional except for a provision that called for Medicare expansion (“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”). In the following years up to 2016, ObamaCare was revised and saw over fifty repeal attempts by the house and the senate before it was taken to the Supreme Court for the last time in 2015 in the King v. Burwell case (“Supreme Court ObamaCare”). However, according to an msnbc article written by Steve Benen, the case saw even more attempts after the King v. Burwell case and saw upwards of 60 repeal attempts by February of 2016.

The Chief of the Justice, John Roberts, was the one to deliver the 6 to 3 decision of the Court on June 25th, 2015. Roberts “soberly” revealed that he was with the majority opinion in ruling the case constitutional (Vogue and Diamond). Roberts’ siding with the liberal wing of the court and swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy surprised and angered conservatives for a second time since the first case in 2011 as he was a justice who was known for his conservative views as he was appointed to the Court by Republican President George W. Bush following the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2003 before becoming the Chief of Justice in 2005. Roberts had supported the constitutionality of ObamaCare the times it reached the Supreme Court, which angered most Republicans that sided with him on most issues (“John Roberts Biography”). This is ultimately what Wilkinson is poking fun at in his political cartoon as President Obama and John Roberts rush the Republican Party elephant into an ambulance labeled ObamaCare.

The opposition the Obama Administration met in their efforts to implement the Affordable Care Act can be compared to the opposition Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was up against when he fought to pass his New Deal legislations in an effort to mobilize the U.S. economy after The Great Depression of the 1930s. When Roosevelt took office in 1933, his administration spared no time in beginning to draft and implement laws that would benefit the economy. However, a great portion of Roosevelt’s New Deal was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on multiple occasions. FDR struggled to find ways to get the government involved in ways that were constitutional in the Court’s eyes, and was a battle he fought throughout his entire presidency. At one point, Roosevelt even tried to change the rules and regulations surrounding the tenure given to justices. The central idea around democracy is the existence and allowance for checks and balances between the different branches of government, ensuring that the constitution is upheld, but can also be a cause for conflict as it was in these two situations.

The injured elephant in Wilkinson’s cartoon represents the Republican Party’s failed attempts at striking down the Act, and the sense of betrayal Republicans felt in hearing Roberts’ verdict. Wilkinson’s mockery of the situation is extended through the use of irony in the cartoon as the Republican elephant is seen being carried into the ambulance that represents the exact Act they fought against incessantly in the years since its inception. Ultimately, the political cartoon is a satirical representation of the struggles experienced on both sides of the ACA battle of the late 2000s and early 2010s.

“Affordable Care Act.” Health and Wellness, edited by Miranda Herbert Ferrara and Michele P. LaMeau, Gale, 2015, pp. 213-218. Life and Career Skills Series Vol. 3. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3626900053&asid=a839c32d69a3950087068d49ee305873. Accessed 16 Nov. 2016.

 

Benen, Steve. “On Groundhog Day, Republicans Vote to Repeal ObamaCare.” The Maddow Blog. Web. Accessed 20 Nov. 2016, http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/groundhog-day-republicans-vote-repeal-obamacare

 

“John Roberts Biography.” Biography.com Editors. Accessed 14 Nov. 2016, http://www.biography.com/people/john-roberts-20681147

 

“King v. Burwell 576 U.S. ___ (2015).” supreme.justia.com, Accessed 15 Nov. 2016, https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/576/14-114/

 

“Supreme Court ObamaCare | Ruling on ObamaCare.” obamacarefacts.com, Accessed 16 Nov. 2016, http://obamacarefacts.com/supreme-court-obamacare/

 

Taylor, Jerry W. “A Brief History on the Road to Healthcare Reform: From Truman to Obama.” beckershospitalreview.com, Web. Accessed 20 Nov. 2016, http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/news-analysis/a-brief-history-on-the-road-to-healthcare-reform-from-truman-to-obama.html

 

“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” Gale Encyclopedia of Everyday Law, edited by Donna Batten, 3rd ed., vol. 2: Health Care to Travel, Gale, 2013, pp. 877-880. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX2760300181&asid=2479ea0abb5dd9387b350cefa7289042. Accessed 16 Nov. 2016.

 

Vogue, Ariane de and Diamond, Jeremy. “Supreme Court Saves ObamaCare.” CNN. 25 June 15. Web. Accessed 16 Nov. 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/25/politics/supreme-court-ruling-obamacare/