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Supreme Court Vacancy Could Be Long and Unprecedented

Mark Fischer
View looking straight up from the front door of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C.

Senate Republicans say there will be no hearings, no votes, and no new U.S. Supreme Court justice until the next president is sworn in next year.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with legal experts Todd Pettys of the University of Iowa and Tony Gaughan of Drake University about the impact Justice Scalia's death will have on current cases before the court, many of which are expected to now come down 4-4. Pettys says there could be an even number of justices until April of 2017.

"I don't think there's any precedent for [that kind of] delay, where politics are playing a role in keeping a seat vacant for that duration," says Pettys.

Gaughan says he fears there is an "escalating cycle of political polarization and obstructionist tactics by both sides," and that the decisions made now could have negative long-term impact.

"My concern would be, if there is no vote granted to whoever the nominee is this year, I can easily imagine a scenario where a future Senate will argue that there should not be a nomination made during a Midterm election year, Gaughan says. "Then we will have essentially have rewritten the Constitution to say, you can only nominate someone to the Supreme Court two of every four years."

Included in the Supreme Court case analysis are the stories and implications of several cases being decided on this year: a case that involves access to abortion clinics, cases similar to the Hobby Lobby case on contraception and the Affordable Care Act, as well as a case that questions the president's authority on immigration. 

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River