2012 Elections Conference: Roundtable: Looking Ahead to 2013 and Beyond

Participants: Gary Jacobson (University of California at San Diego), Rod Kiewiet (California Institute of Technology), and Rich Vining (University of Georgia). Moderator: Jamie Carson (University of Georgia).

Dr. Vining’s presentation focused on the impact of the 2012 elections on the federal courts, particularly the Supreme Court. Based on his research into the factors influencing Supreme Court Justices’ retirement decisions (the most important and relevant of which are preference concordance with the president and Senate majority and infirmity), Dr. Vining organizes the sitting Justices into three tiers based on their likelihood of retiring in the next four years. The top four are most likely to exit the Court, the middle (Clarence Thomas) is unlikely to retire but possible, and the last four are almost certain to remain on the Court over the next four years:

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seems most likely to retire, but her replacement would not produce a major ideological shift on the Court.

Dr. Vining has also compiled a list of Supreme Court contenders, divided into judges and non-judges (politicians, law professors, etc.):

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Dr. Jacobson discussed his view that the 2012 elections revealed another dimension of political polarization that is based on demographic cleavages in addition to ideological divisions between the parties. Minority groups have moved further into the Democratic fold, and racial minorities and women now comprise a majority of the Democratic coalition in the House. This sets up a sharp tension moving forward. In states like California that have had fast-growing minority populations and socially liberalizing electorates, Republicans have become an endangered species. This portends poorly for their electoral prospects nationally.

Dr. Kiewiet added that, moving forward, there is also a growing element of geographic polarization between economically viable and economically non-viable (e.g., California) states. Because states cannot borrow money without impunity and hit budgetary constraints much more quickly, structural fiscal problems cannot be swept under the rug easily.

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