What role did the Supreme Court play in the 2016 election? This is the question I consider in an article that will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Chicago-Kent Law Review. The article is based on a paper I presented at a symposium organized by ISCOTUS last fall; the law review will be publishing an entire issue of articles from the symposium.
My article focuses how Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton used the Court as a campaign issue. My central finding is this: Although the Court was an unusually significant factor when people cast their votes in this election, the major party candidates themselves did not seem particularly interested in pressing the Court as a major campaign issue. My articles explains why.
To explain what happened, I focus in particular on 2016, but I try to make sense of this extraordinary election by placing it in the context of presidential elections over the past century.
In the presidential election of 2016, circumstances seemed perfectly aligned to force the Supreme Court to the front of public debate, but neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton treated the Court as a central issue of their campaigns. Trump rarely went beyond a brief mention of the Court in his campaign speeches; Clinton basically avoided the issue as much as possible throughout the general election.
The candidates’ relative lack of attention to the Court can partly be explained by factors unique to the 2016 campaign. Yet historically the Court has rarely been a major concern for presidential candidates. It was not until the 1960s that major-party presidential candidates even considered the Supreme Court as an issue appropriate for presidential campaigns, and since then candidates have been reluctant to press future appointments to the Court as a centerpiece of their election efforts. The 2016 campaign, for all its precedent-shattering and unpredictable qualities, basically fell into a predictable dynamic when it came to the candidates’ treatment of the Court.
In a series of future posts, I’ll offer a more detailed description of the Court’s role in the 2016 election, the Court’s role in elections past, and the reasons why presidential candidates so rarely press the Court as a central campaign issue.
This post was written by ISCOTUS Co-Director and Chicago-Kent Faculty Member Christopher W. Schmidt.