Why the US Supreme Court could be in for a change from Trump

Hayley Kirton
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U.S. Supreme Court Prepares For New Term
There'll be at least one new face in the Supreme Court thanks to Trump (Source: Getty)

Donald Trump's election could not only change the political landscape of the US, but the legal layout too.

The country's Presidents are responsible for nominating new justices to Supreme Court whenever there happens to be a free slot going. Following the passing of Antonin Scalia in February, there's currently a seat that needs to be filled.

The eight justices currently seated are delightfully evenly split between liberals and conservatives, so Trump's nomination is likely to shift the balance over to the conservative side. The now President-elect has previously drawn up a shortlist of potential people, including US senator and Republican party member Mike Lee.

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President Barack Obama had been expected to make the appointment himself during the course of his administration. However, his nomination, Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the US Court of Appeals who has garnered favour from both Democrats and Republicans over his career, has failed to gain approval from the senate.

Scalia himself was a strong conservative voice, however, so anybody Trump slots into the role is more likely to represent a return to the norm than a drastic change in thinking.

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However, the balance could be well and truly be shifted should any of the other judges step down during the next four years, particularly if it happens before the mid-term elections in 2018, when there will certainly still be a Republican-dominated senate.

The probability of Trump getting to put up more than one judge is reasonably high, too. For example, liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been fending off speculation that she is about to retire for the last few years, while it's worth noting both Obama and Bill Clinton were responsible for the appointment of two justices each, and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon both nominated three.

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However, Trump will not be able to remove and replace justices at his leisure. Supreme Court justices have life tenure so only leave their role on death or retirement. It is theoretically possible for a justice to be removed by impeachment, but this is extremely unlikely. Only one justice has ever been impeached, back in the early 19th century, and even he managed to keep his post after being acquitted by the senate.

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