Some Republicans say that if Hillary Clinton becomes president, they’re prepared to leave one or more Supreme Court seats vacant long-term. Such a maneuver could result in Americans living under a variety of legal decisions and uncertain about their fundamental constitutional rights, McClatchy Newspapers reports. North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr this week became the latest to pledge he’ll stonewall Clinton’s nominee for the current Supreme Court vacancy if she beats Donald Trump. A Republican-controlled Senate next year could block judicial nominees and leave the court with eight justices, or fewer if more leave the bench.
Legal experts fear this undermines the high court’s role in resolving differences when lower federal courts rule in contradictory ways. “The Constitution really shouldn’t mean different things in different parts of the country,” said Stanford law Prof. Pamela Karlan, a former U.S. Department of Justice official. When the high court splits 4-4, the lower court decision stays in place. That can leave competing judicial rulings on a single legal issue. The last legal word in such cases could look very different across states. This could cause uncertainty, Karlan said, for businesses that operate in several jurisdictions and families who move or travel. Sen. Burr said that if Clinton wins, “I’m going to do everything I can do to make sure that four years from now, we’re still going to have an opening on the Supreme Court.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said, “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.”