Trump’s new justice to rule them all

Commentary

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement is giving President Donald Trump the rare opportunity to replace the only swing vote on the bench with a conservative one. Until now, the Supreme Court was composed of an equal number of liberal and conservative justices, four of each, and one swing justice, whose vote was pivotal.

This fortuitous repartition prevented the highest court of the United States* from leaning to one side or the other, allowing balanced rulings on the most important legal and social issues facing American society. Those days are over.

The new justice (expected to be announced by the president after the QCT goes to press on July 9) will provide a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which may decide to overturn several rulings that are taken for granted. The first one most likely to be overturned is Roe v. Wade. The 7 - 2 Supreme Court ruling confirmed women’s privacy rights extended to the decision to get an abortion. In essence, the decision declared several restrictions on abortion unconstitutional.

As much as the original 1973 ruling created a deep divide throughout the country, its possible overturning could deepen that divide even more. Chances of reconciliation over such a delicate issue are almost impossible, especially in the current hyper-polarized political climate.

The outcome of this issue will most certainly have an effect on Canada. If American women can’t get an abortion in their country, they are likely to journey north of the border to get one. This will place the topic in a front row seat, forcing Canadians to think about it, whether we like it or not.

We share more than a border with our neighbour. Important issues in the United States are often similar to ours, and citizens in both countries are actively interested in what occurs next door.

Legal since 1969, Canadian abortion rights are taken for granted in most of the country. However, the conservative wave slowly sweeping the world is casting some doubt over apparently immutable things, even in Canada. Recent comments made by Conservative MP Ted Falk raised a lot of eyebrows when he shouted, during the May 9 question period, “It’s not a right,” in response to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to uphold abortion rights.

It’s highly improbable, but not impossible, that a Canadian government would recriminalize abortion. What is legal today might not be tomorrow, and vice versa. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Canada could become the preferred destination for American women seeking abortions, and the situation may force our government to address the issue.

The Republicans’ hold over the U.S. Supreme Court could grow even stronger. Trump may have the exceedingly rare opportunity to replace other justices within his first term. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and Justice Stephen Breyer is 79; both are considered liberal justices. Considering that Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring at 81, the scenario in which the Supreme Court could be composed of seven conservative justices out of nine is probable and daunting.

Democrats are currently powerless over the selection of the new justices, as Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The effects of a conservative Supreme Court could be felt for a very long time. At most, Trump has six years of power left. Supreme Court justices are named for life and have had, since 1950, an average tenure close to 20 years. Trump’s shadow will hover over the Supreme Court years after his departure from the White House.

*The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the United States. Its membership, as set by the Judiciary Act of 1869, consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight associate justices, any six of whom would constitute a quorum. Justices are nominated by the president of the United States and appointed after confirmation by the United States Senate.