"SCOTUS too important to lose for generations." -- a tweet from Republican National Chairman and obvious anagram Reince PriebusIt is pretty simple. Do you want the Supreme Court to overturn Citizens United or Roe v. Wade? Do you want the Supreme Court to add progressive-minded justices with a range of experience, ethnicity and gender or do you want vacancies filled by only conservative white males personally vetted by Donald J. Trump? (If you have any doubt that diversity on the Court is critical, read Justice Sotomayor's extraordinary dissent in Utah v. Strieff, skewering the Court's majority opinion that found an arrest after an unlawful police stop to be valid and the evidence seized to be admissible.)
There has been a conservative majority on the Supreme Court since President Nixon's appointments put an end to the liberal Warren Court. Since then, the Court has become increasingly more favorable to corporations, law enforcement, landowners and gun owners, and more skeptical of voting rights, civil rights, privacy and reproductive rights, and LGBT rights. And while there have been some noteworthy Supreme Court victories for liberals over the last few decades, the conservatives have long been in firm control.
But now that Justice Scalia has left the building, we can begin to imagine what the Court would look like if his seat is taken by a liberal-leaning justice. Suddenly, Justice Kennedy, the conservative Reagan appointee who occasionally votes with the liberal bloc, would no longer be the coveted swing vote. That role would go to Justice Breyer, a left-of-center Clinton appointee (notwithstanding that Breyer incomprehensibly joined Clarence Thomas' opinion to provide a 5-3 majority in Utah v. Strieff). And just like that, right wing fevered dreams of overturning Roe v. Wade, eliminating the concept of one person one vote, sabotaging Obamacare, destroying the financial capability of labor unions, and restoring the ban on same sex marriages would be gone.
Even better, progressives could begin to play offense instead of defense for the first time since about 1970 -- taking up cases to expand rights and remedies, rather than fighting the limitations of rights and restrictions on remedies. This could result in greater access for women seeking abortions, the abolition of capital punishment, more robust interpretation of environmental and financial regulations, and greater ability of employees, consumers and whistleblowers to go after corporate wrongdoing.
And keep in mind that not only is there one current vacancy to fill, but there soon may be more. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, Anthony Kennedy is 79 and Stephen Breyer is 77. And 67-year-old Clarence Thomas is rumored to be mulling retirement so he can spend more time driving around in his RV with his right-wing activist wife.
Sure, I wish Hillary Clinton had not followed Colin Powell's lead and used her private email server as Secretary of State. I wish she had not given paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. And I wish she were not married to Bill. But, say what you will about Bill Clinton's presidency -- and there are a lot of negative things to say -- he did put Justice Ginsburg on the high court. Justice Breyer too. There is no reason to think that Hillary Clinton's choices for the Court won't be equally, if not more, progressive.
The bottom line is that presidents come and go, but they can have an outsized impact on the Supreme Court -- an impact, as Reince Priebus notes, that can last for generations. Republicans get this. It is why they have used unprecedented obstruction to prevent President Obama from filling the current vacancy. And it is why many Republicans will end up supporting their Party's nominee despite how repulsive they may find him. This is a reality that Democrats, Independents, Sanders supporters and anti-Clinton progressives must come to terms with -- it is a reality that trumps everything.