For those envisioning a line of moving vans at the Supreme Court and a new president immediately reordering life at the marble palace, this small splash of cold water:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, has already hired the four clerks who will assist her through June 2018.

Above the Law, the legal website that follows the anointing of Supreme Court clerks pretty much the way Variety chronicles casting the latest Steven Spielberg film, reports that several justices, including Ginsburg, have finished the hiring process for the term that begins in October 2017.

That doesn’t mean that nothing will change between now and then, or that the next president won’t have a dramatic impact on the high court.

But as refreshing as it is to see the Supreme Court at the center of the presidential campaign, it is worth remembering that a president’s chance to nominate a justice is one of the least predictable events in American politics.

“Generally, it is God who decides whether presidents get Supreme Court appointments,” says longtime Supreme Court practitioner Walter Dellinger.


It is natural to look at Ginsburg; Justice Anthony Kennedy, 80; and Justice Stephen G. Breyer, 78, and conclude that whoever moves into the Oval Office next January has the chance to leave a lasting legacy.

The partisan battle to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat rages still, and President Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland awaits his fate.

The outcome will tilt the court to the left, or it could leave conservatives in control.

Republican Donald Trump has made that clear, as he’s trying to use the power to appoint justices as a way to try to bring reluctant conservatives in line.

“If you really like Donald Trump, that’s great, but if you don’t, you have to vote for me anyway. You know why? Supreme Court judges,” he said at a July 28 rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Sorry, sorry, sorry – you have no choice.”

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