On November 3rd, Americans of all walks will head to the polls (or the post office) and exercise their right to vote, just like every four years.
However, for the more vigilant followers of American politics, this one feels… different. This 2020 election just might be the most pivotal in modern American history.
Yes, we hear it every cycle. Candidates, committees and pundits alike parrot the cliché in an effort to rally supporters to the ballots. But after the last vote has been counted on election night, generational shifts will become inevitable.
Aside from the crown jewel of American politics, the Presidency, both parties are vying to win a plethora of tight races in the House and Senate.
One scenario that should scare Republican voters to the polls is the possibility that the Democrats could take back both the Oval Office and the Senate majority. Considering the rising popularity of extreme progressivism among young voters, a united liberal government could mean sweeping changes to even the most cemented institutions in America.
For conservatives and liberals alike, all eyes are on the Supreme Court. Liberal Justices Ginsburg and Breyer are both in their 80s, and if the GOP can hold a tightly contested Senate majority, Mitch McConnell and President Trump may once again have the chance to confirm a replacement – or two – into the nation’s highest court. If two liberal justices were to leave the bench in a hypothetical second term for Trump, we would likely see the most polarized court in modern history.
Conversely, considering the chance, which pollsters say is a strong possibility, that the Democrats overtake both the Presidency AND the Senate, we could even see the number of total Supreme Court seats rise.
How? In more progressive circles, this once-fringe proposal is gaining traction in the name of climate change and racial justice. The idea was last proposed by a sitting president when FDR announced his 1937 “court-packing” plan which would have expanded the Supreme Court to as many as fifteen seats. The scheme was rebuked by most members of Congress, regardless of affiliation.
Should the expansion be proposed by a Biden-Harris-Sanders White House, would a unified liberal government look down on this plan? It is highly unlikely. Pew research shows that Americans are sharply discordant about the severity of certain issues. A June study showed that 62% of liberals consider climate change a very big problem facing the country today. Only 13% of conservatives agreed.
Another issue defining our polarized union is the way in which minorities are treated by the criminal justice system. Only 20% of conservative and Republican voters perceive criminal justice disparities as a very pressing issue in America, while 76% of liberals do.
For progressive groups calling on a Supreme Court expansion that would allow a Democratic government to pack the bench, these two issues happen to be at the forefront of their pleas. Erich Pica, president of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said, “From the fight for racial justice to efforts to stop climate change and protect our clean air and water, the current configuration of the court has consistently stood in the way of progress. We simply do not have a generation’s worth of time to replace judges.”
It is no guarantee that progressives would actually push for sweeping policy targeting climate change, but it is worth noting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution had nearly 100 co-signers in the House. In a unified liberal government, it is tough to see an outcome where ancient party veterans like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer would block such legislation.
Many liberal voters and representatives in Congress agree that climate change is an existential and pressing threat to the country. In all likelihood, a unified Democratic government would have the means – and the motivation – to reshape even the Supreme Court institution.
In the same vein, the Electoral College could also be at risk, and not just because Democratic candidates pushed the idea during this past year’s debates. Pew polls conducted since 2000 show a continuously increasing favorability for abolishing it and amending the Constitution so that the popular vote winner becomes president. Younger voters are more likely to view amending the Constitution favorably, just like they are more open to massively progressive legislation such as the Green New Deal.
The Democratic party is extremely divided and in desperate need of a platform that isn’t ‘orange man bad.’ Finding unity behind ultra-liberal legislation and ideas is probably not too far off for the left; the old guard is being ushered out as we speak.
For a victorious Trump camp, building on a strong Supreme Court majority would be a focal point, and the possibility of a 6-3 or 7-2 supermajority would lay the groundwork for a lasting legacy. Of course, swearing in Justices would require a Republican-controlled Senate. But, in all likelihood, if the President does win re-election, those voters will also be backing the GOP down the ballot line. Since the late 80s, Senate races have strongly correlated to Presidential races.
In other words, this election is a winner-take-all race; in more ways than one.