President Barack Obama halted speculation this week when he nominated Merrick Garland, chief justice of the U.S. court of appeals for the District of Columbia, to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court left by Antonin Scalia.
The drama surrounding the decision to fill the office rages on though, as members of the Senate must now decide if they will confirm the nomination or leave the seat vacant until the next president is elected.
At stake during this time of turmoil are a number of cases waiting to be heard and those already awaiting decision, including three cases concerning the future of healthcare. With only eight members of the high court left, there is an opportunity for a 4-4 split of the justices’ votes.
In the event of a split, the decision of the lower court is upheld, and the case is not deemed to have set any sort of precedent. The power of the Supreme Court as a final word and decision is effectively diluted.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already pledged that he will not confirm, or meet with, any nomination from Obama in an effort to involve the American people in the decision.
“The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for consideration,” he said on the Senate floor. “The next president may also nominate somebody very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice filling the vacancy.”
Garland, who was confirmed in his current position by a majority of both Democrats and Republicans, is seen as a moderate politically.
He has already been involved in a number of healthcare related cases, sometimes siding with hospitals and sometimes siding with the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The nominee that was selected is probable the exact type of nominee most moderate Americans would want – somebody that is in the middle of the political spectrum and is extremely qualified,” Stewart Verdery, the founder of the Monument Policy Group, said to the Wall Street Journal.
Democrats in Congress demand members of the GOP fulfill their duty and consider the nomination, but it is unlikely a decision be made until the results of the presidential election.
In the meantime, the remaining Supreme Court justices will hear arguments next week in the case of Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell, regarding non-profit companies’ obligation to provide birth control at no cost to employees. A decision is expected in June.