The U.S. Supreme Court chamber sometimes seems like dreamland, a place beyond time where noises are muffled and the light is gentle, where judges are noble and kind and advocates courteous and forthright.
Yet even in dreamland the cares of day appear, often in disguised or distorted form, and words that mean one thing can also, on waking, mean something else.
On the Monday before the presidential election, dreamland calmly heard a case implicating an issue that may loom large after the vote: when can the president install his or her choice as an important “acting” federal official while waiting for Senate confirmation—confirmation that may never come?
Readers may see the question through a constitutional lens, after years of din about “executive overreach.” The justices—all eight of them lined up in chairs rearranged to look as if there is no gap where Justice Antonin Scalia once sat—must also at least dimly see it through a present lens. If the election results go one particular way, they are hearing from the world outside, they may go four or even eight years without a justice for that vacant seat. Indeed, even if death or resignation visit One First St. N.E. again, one prominent voice on the right recently said, the Senate could “literally let the Supreme Court die out.” Such a partisan blockade could easily extend to cabinet choices of a disfavored new president, until the government itself—or at least that part of it that makes policy—grinds to a halt.