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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

High Court Wild Card Looms Over 2024 Elections

There are plenty of potentially-pivotal wild cards still looming in the 2024 election deck: Trump’s indictments; Biden’s age; RFK, Jr.; other 3rd party candidates; abortion; Gaza; Ukraine; inflation; etc. etc. Ed Pilkington notes another in his article, “‘Did you just hear John Roberts scream?’: US supreme court to have outsized influence in 2024 election” in The Guardian. Among his observations:

The US supreme court, stacked with rightwing justices appointed by Donald Trump and facing a crisis of public confidence in its impartiality, has been thrust into the thick of the 2024 presidential election through a number of highly charged and critical cases.

Last week’s dynamite ruling from the Colorado supreme court disqualifying Trump from the state’s presidential primary ballot on grounds that he engaged in insurrection on 6 January 2021 is almost certain to end up before the country’s highest court. Trump’s legal team has indicated it will appeal, and the nine supreme court justices will be under pressure to take the case or risk legal confusion spreading as the election year unfolds.

In addition to the Colorado ruling, the top court was also asked to step into the legal battle between Trump and the department of justice’s special counsel Jack Smith in the criminal prosecution of the former president over his attempt to subvert the 2020 election. At issue was whether Trump could claim presidential immunity even though he is no longer in the White House.

Earlier this month Smith asked the supreme court to expedite a decision to avoid delaying a criminal trial in Washington DC scheduled to begin on 4 March. On Friday the court issued a one-sentence denial, which returns the case back to a Washington DC-based federal appeals court, though it is likely to be only a matter of time before such a fundamental question wends its way back to the highest court for final adjudication.

All of which “comes at an awkward time for the court, which is already reeling from its own internal ethical scandals and plummeting public approval ratings,” according to Pilkington., who adds,

To be shoved into the heart of the election battle is likely to be a deeply uncomfortable experience for all the justices, three of whom – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – were appointed by Trump. The prospect is especially fraught for the chief justice, John Roberts, who is known to be sensitive about public opinion and keen to keep the court above the political ruckus.

As the Colorado ruling was announced Mike Sacks, a writer on law and politics, quipped on social media: “Did you all just hear John Roberts scream too because I def did”.

Legal pundits agree that the supreme court is almost duty bound to take the Colorado case and hear it expeditiously. David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, said “it’s crucial for all Americans that the issue of Trump’s eligibility be resolved as soon as possible. The Republican party needs to know if it has a qualified nominee, election officials need to know who to name on the ballot, and the voters need to know who they can vote for.”

Colorado’s primary is slated for Super Tuesday, March 5th – one of 17 states that will count presidential primary ballots that day. And there will be loud weeping and gnashing of teeth, no matter what the Supremes, who have a 41 percent approval rate, decide to do. The implications for Democratic strategy are iffy too, depending on the decision.

It may be that the Biden campaign would rather run against Trump than several other GOP presidential candidates. So there are undoubtedly Democratic strategists who are hoping Trump prevails in the Supreme Court ruling. No doubt many other Democrats would prefer not to gamble on allowing Trump to win the GOP nomination and risk empowering him to further degrade American democracy.

The 14th amendment, section 3 is not one of the more well-written parts of the Constitution. But for any interpretation to say that it is OK for the President of the U.S. to not only advocate, but also take part in a plot to shred a fair presidential election is a pretty ugly stretch, even for a court with three Trump appointees. Don’t bet on Justice Thomas recusing himself. But if he does, a 4-4 tie becomes possible, in which case the Colorado decision stands.

Regardless, however, the  upcoming Supreme Court decision underscores the enormous importance of restoring integrity in the composition of the High Court, as well as reforms in its rules. As soon as Democrats win the necessary seats in the Senate and House, they should increase the size of the Supreme Court, which was last set at 9 seats back in 1869, when the U.S. had less than 40 million people, compared to about 332 millions now. In all, the number of seats on the Supreme Court has been changed six times by congress, so let’s have no whining about upholding the founders’ intentions.

And no bellyaching, please, about ‘packing the court.’ The Republicans have already done that. Dems must WTFU and play their best hole card at the first opportunity, if they want to play on a level table in the coming years.

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