Scalia’s death raises the stakes but also the question of reforms

The presidential election campaign all of a sudden got more contentious, more exciting, and more important with the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the leading conservative on the Court.

The voters on November 8 will now decide not only who occupies the White House after President Obama, and who controls the U.S. Congress, but also who, conservatives or liberals, will control the third branch of the American political system, the Supreme Court.

With Scalia gone, the Court is tied, 4 – 4, between conservative and liberal justices. An Obama appointment would almost certainly swing the Court to a liberal majority and, for the first time since 1972, the justices appointed by Democratic presidents would outnumber those appointed by Republican presidents. The change would be monumental.

The Republicans in the Senate led by majority leader Mitch McConnell have instantly made it clear that they have no intention to consider an Obama nominee, no what who that is. The decision to appoint Scalia’s replacement should be made by the next president. But Obama is not elected to a three-year but to a four-year term. He has almost a year left in office and he has, rightly, declared that he intends to nominate a new justice. So we are in for a big fight, a complicating, new factor in an election campaign already fraught with uncertainty and tension.

McConnell, who famously said during Obama’s first term that his primary political goal was to make sure that Obama was not reelected now wants to deny the president, who has already appointed two new high court justices, the chance to appoint a third. McConnell’s stern “no” could have serious election implications for the Republicans and their goal to keep their Senate majority, as NYT’s Nate Cohn outlines. We’ll see how this plays out.

The death of Scalia is also an important reminder of how totally unpredictable the system of appointing Supreme Court justices is. It’s time to change what’s been, rightly, called an undemocratic system by doing away with life time appointments and create more orderly nomination procedures with term limits and a retirement age. In Minnesota, to which I presently spend a lot of attention, the retirement age for the state’s highest court is 70. That’s a bit young, maybe, but why not 75? And why not a 20-year term limit? Or both?

Sadly, such reforms are seldom part of the American political dialogue. They should be, particularly as the politicization of the Supreme Court shows no signs of abating.

Minnesota’s Democrats rally their forces for November battles

It was a celebration of the past glory days and it was a rally to keep the political power in the future, when Minnesota’s ruling party, the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL), tonight gathered for the third annual Humphrey-Mondale dinner.

There must have been a thousand party loyalists in the Minneapolis Convention Center, and they all seemed to enjoy themselves, wildly rooting for Governor Mark Dayton and U.S. Senator Al Franken to be re-elected in November, enthusiastically greeting the state’s other DFL Senator, Amy Klobuchar, who is not up for re-election, and showering good will over former Vice President Walter Mondale, whose wife Joan recently passed away and who, himself, recently went through heart surgery.

And there, in the video clips on the big screens, was Hubert Humphrey, the legendary former Senator and Vice President, and the main architect of the merger of the Democratic Party with the Farmer Labor Party back in 1944, and Paul Wellstone, another DFL legend and US Senator, who died in an airplane crash just days before the election in 2002, a tragedy that paved the way for Republican Norm Coleman to become Senator.

Al Franken, in turn, beat Coleman six years ago, by only 312 votes and after an eternal recount, and he promised tonight that he will win in November — by a greater margin. The DFL:ers loved it.

And they loved the evening’s special guest speaker, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts, just like Minnesota a solidly progressive and Democratic state. Her populist economic message about fighting back against the Republicans and the big money that are aiming to buy this country and fighting to give ordinary people an opportunity and a chance by creating a level playing field, brought people to their feet, time and again.

But among all the laughter and jubilation was also the serious message to the loyalists that an election victory in November will require hard work, lots of hard work, to get out the vote. I need you, said Al Franken.

 

Here’s the situation in the campaign’s last frantic hours

Less than 48 hours before Election Day and the pace is frantic. The candidates jump from state to state in search of voters while new pieces of information about early voting, opinion polls, rumors, predictions, and speculation in the media are now sweeping across the country.

By Tuesday, the last chance to vote, around 60 percent or 130 million Americans are expected to have cast their ballots. Let’s look at the numbers in the final phase of the presidential contest, but also in the Senate elections, where 33 seats are at stake, the House of Representatives, where all 435 seats are contested, and in the eleven governors races.

The President:

It’s very even, everyone says. Those who really keep track of all numbers and all the polls predict a decisive victory for Barack Obama, while the more traditional political pundits are more cautious. It remains to be seen who gets it right, but if the polls do not prove completely wrong, I am willing to put my money on political statisticians like Nate Silver and Simon Jackman.

Nate Silver on his blog FiveThirtyEight in the New York Times assesses President Obama’s victory chances to be 85 percent and for Obama to win 307 electoral votes — 270 are required for victory. In 2008, Obama won 365 electoral votes to John McCain’s 173.

Simon Jackman, professor at Stanford University and like Silver a political statistician, writes on his blog in the Huffington Post that the most likely scenario is that Obama gets 332 electoral votes. Jackman thinks that in seven of the nine battleground states — Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida – an Obama victory is likely, even very likely. In crucial Ohio, Obama’s victory chances are 90 percent, in Wisconsin nearly 99 percent, in Iowa and Nevada over 90 percent, in New Hampshire just under 90 percent, and in Colorado 70 percent. Florida is too close to call while North Carolina is likely going to Romney.

The Senate:

Only twelve of the 33 Senate seats are really contested. In the end, most think the Democrats will retain their majority, even increase it a bit from today’s majority of 51 with two independents voting with the Democrats, against 47 Republicans.

Arizona: Republican Jon Kyl retires and the battle to replace him is surprisingly even in this normally solid Republican state. Democrat Richard Carmona has a chance to beat Republican Jeff Flake. If so, it would be a huge upset.

Connecticut: Independent Joe Lieberman retires and Democrat Chris Murphy is favored to take his place against wrestling queen and millionaire Republican Linda McMahon, who has already failed once to become a Senator from this democratic state.

Indiana: Republican and veteran Senator Richard Lugar was upset in the Republican primary election by Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock, who now seems to have to pay for his extremism on abortion and rape, as Democrat Joe Donnelly is favored to win. A sensational outcome in this solid Republican state, where Obama won in 2008 but where he has no chance to win this year.

Massachusetts: Democrat Elizabeth Warren is favored to defeat Republican Senator Scott Brown in one of the most Democratic states in the country. Brown won surprisingly a special election a couple of years ago after Ted Kennedy’s death, but with Obama on the ballot this year, Brown is heading for a probable defeat.

Missouri: Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill is heading for a surprising re-election in this conservative state due to another Tea Party favorite Todd Akin’s many stupid statements about abortion and rape.

Montana: Extremely even race between Democratic Senator Jon Tester and his Republican challenger Danny Rehberg, although Romney is the clear favorite in this state.

Nevada: Republican Senator Dean Heller is expected to defeat Democrat Shelley Berkley, but if Obama wins big in Nevada, Berkley might squeeze out a victory.

North Dakota: Democrat Kent Conrad retires and Republican Rick Berg is expected to take his Senate seat by beating Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, but the race is very even.

Ohio: Democrat Sherrod Brown is expected to be re-elected.

Pennsylvania: Democrat Bob Casey is expected to be re-elected.

Virginia: Democrat Jim Webb retires and two ex-governors are fighting to replace him, with Democrat Tim Kaine a slight favorite over Republican George Allen. Obama and Romney are also involved in a tight race in this state.

Wisconsin: Democrat Herbert Kohl retires and his party colleague Tammy Baldwin is expected to beat Republican Tommy Thompson, albeit extremely narrowly.

The House of Representatives:

The Republicans are expected to retain their majority – 240 to 193 with 3 vacancies – among the 435 members of the House of Representatives. Although the Democrats are expected to pick up a few seats, it will not be enough, and Speaker John Boehner is expected to continue to lead the House for another two years.

The Governors:

There are elections for governor in eleven states. No matter what happens, the Republicans will continue to dominate on the state level, controlling at least 30 of the 50 governorships.