Unchecked Trump?

NEW YORK – How has the 2016 election in the United States – which gave the Republican Party control of the presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives – affected the much-touted system of checks and balances as set out in the country’s constitution? In my view, it has virtually eliminated them.

The checks and balances generated by the judicial branch are certainly in danger. Anything less than constant Democratic filibusters will allow Republicans to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court that they have blocked Democratic President Barack Obama from filling. And the aging Supreme Court may soon have more slots open – slots currently held by liberal and centrist justices. Republicans therefore have a good chance of creating a conservative majority on the nine-member Supreme Court that may last for decades, especially if they win the presidency again in 2020.

That majority may erode democratic checks, such as the campaign-finance limits that were dealt a devastating blow by the 2010 Citizens United decision. In a 5-4 majority, the Court ruled that corporations are “associations of individuals,” and thus that any limits on the amount of money corporations could spend on political campaigns violated their First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

Republican obstructionism in the Senate has also put other levels of the federal judiciary at risk. During President Barack Obama’s second term in office, the rate at which vacancies in the US District and Circuit Courts were filled fell to its lowest point in 50 years. Trump can now fill rapidly these vacancies with conservative judges who may well erode checks and balances further.