This is American politics in 2016: the normalization of the deeply abnormal, the collapse of customs of behavior and respect, and the creation of an environment so toxic and polarized that the nation’s leaders struggle to carry out the most basic tasks of government.
In this chaotic climate, it can be easy to forget that the Supreme Court, which begins a new term on Monday, remains without a ninth justice nearly seven months after President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. That seat is likely to stay empty until well into 2017, and depending on which party wins the White House and controls the Senate, possibly long beyond that.
This is entirely contrary to the workings of a constitutional government, and it is inflicting damage on the court and the country. But Senate Republicans care nothing about that as they continue their unprecedented stonewalling of Judge Garland’s nomination in the hopes of preserving the court’s conservative majority.
Meanwhile, the eight justices have split evenly in several major cases, which puts off any final judgment on lawsuits that affect millions of Americans. These include challenges to the right of public-sector unions to charge collective bargaining fees to nonmembers, to religious exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate and to the legality of Obama’s executive actions on immigration.