The most influential justices on the Supreme Court often say they don’t like the political spotlight. In 2016, there may be no way for them to avoid it.
The Court’s docket is piling up with deeply divisive, overtly political issues—setting the stage for what could be a series of bombshell rulings right in the heat of the 2016 campaign season.
It won’t be the first time the Court has gotten tangled up in politics in an election year—in 2000, it decided the outcome of the presidential election, and in 2012, it decided the fate of President Obama’s health care law in the midst of his reelection campaign. But the Court’s current term, which will likely wrap up in late June, contains an unusually potent mix of politically charged cases.
There are several ways for the Court to step into the political fray. It can rule on the political firestorm of the moment (as it did with Obamacare in 2012). It can take up a well-established tentpole of the culture wars (like same-sex marriage). It can change the rules of electoral politics (a la campaign finance reform), or make life in general harder for one side of the political spectrum.
This term, the Court could do all of the above. It will probably rule on Obama’s executive actions on immigration—the single biggest domestic-policy debate in the 2016 campaign. It will also wade back into abortion rights and take another stab at Obamacare’s contraception mandate. And all of that may serve as a vivid reminder that the next president could get to nominate as many as four new justices.