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Breaking up the Supremes?

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In the wake of one of the most momentous and historic weeks for the Supreme Court in generations comes the growing question of what will happen to the court after the November election.

Even more interesting is how the current court’s make-up, the oldest grouping of justices since FDR’s first term, will affect the presidential campaign.

Both are political questions regarding a government branch that was set up to be above the partisan fray but whose decisions and opinions, as has been proven over the centuries and even more so in recent decades, have more impact on the fortunes – and soundbites – of elected officials than on jurisprudence.

The most glowing example, initially lost in the cacophony of the immigration and campaign finance rulings on Monday and today’s stunning health care decision, was Justice Antonin Scalia’s scathing dissent on the Arizona immigration decision from the bench that was a cannon shot that will be heard loudly along the campaign trail in ads and commercials.

Not only was Scalia’s unusual bench statement a blistering rebuke to the majority opinion, he criticized the recent order by President Obama to curtail deportation of law-abiding immigrants who were brought to this country as children and who meet certain guidelines for remaining in the country legally. Obama’s executive order came two months after the court heard oral arguments, and was not part of the presentation by either side.

“The nation is in the midst of a hard-fought presidential election campaign; the outcome is in doubt,” Judge Richard Posner, a conservative member of the Seventh Court of Appeals in Chicago who has clashed with Scalia in the past despite their shared ideology, wrote in a blog post on Slate. “Illegal immigration is a campaign issue. It wouldn't surprise me if Justice Scalia's opinion were quoted in campaign ads.”

The Washington Post said in an editorial that Scalia’s “gratuitous outburst” endangered the legitimacy of the court, while Post columnist E.J. Dionne called on Scalia to resign. As Sen. Jay Billington Bulworth rapped: “Well, that ain’t gonna happen for sure.”

But it puts the focus on how big a role the next president will play in shaping the court, no matter who wins. On the conservative side, Scalia, the court’s most senior member, is 76, and Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote in 5-4 decisions, is 75, while the liberal wing is headed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is coming up on 80 and battling pancreatic cancer, and Justice Stephen Breyer at 74.

Many say that the result of the election will force each pair to consider stepping aside to assure a continuation of their beliefs on the Court. Should Mitt Romney prevail, Scalia and Kennedy could step down to let him maintain the Court’s rightward lurch for decades by appointing younger, like-minded replacements, while the argument is the same for Ginsburg and Breyer should Obama win reelection. But the election could turn on that because it may be easier for the conservatives to outlast four more years under Obama than liberals to wait eight if Romney wins.

Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy, in a piece for The New Republic, went so far as saying Ginsburg and Breyer have an obligation to step down, citing the case of Justice Thurgood Marshall who tried to delay his retirement until a Democratic president was elected but was forced out because of illness during Bush 41 and replaced by Justice Clarence Thomas.

But, as always, it all comes back to how does that affect Massachusetts. And the answer is Gov. Deval Patrick. Despite his constant denials, how tough would it be for him to say no to a Supreme Court appointment?

                                                                                                                                                --JACK SULLIVAN



BEACON HILL

The Legislature gets set to vote on the 2013 state budget.

The stem cell bank launched in 2008 as part of Gov. Deval Patrick’s $1 billion life sciences initiative is already obsolete and will be closing, the Globe reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

New Bedford officials are moving toward implementing a data-driven management system, similar to what about a dozen other communities in the state have adopted, to reduce waste and increase efficiency in city government.

A Fall River city councilor has proposed hiring a full-time tourism director for the city, a part-time post that has been vacant and unfunded for more than a year.

Foxborough selectmen reject a pay raise for their town manager, and then approve it in a closed session, fearing a lawsuit.

Leominster approves an innovation school.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Stockton, California, prepares to file for bankruptcy, Governing reports. The Daily Beast examines what went wrong. Other cities may also be at risk.

US Sen. Scott Brown calls on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign, AP reports (via Lowell Sun).

Congress strikes a deal to extend highway funding by two years.

Delaware lawmakers approve a full range of online gambling, including slot games, poker and blackjack.

ELECTION 2012

Here’s a proposal to ease a bit of the rancor of the US Senate race: Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren should join forces to start a softball team.  Both are in prime shape after last night’s outings in which Brown fielded questions from family friend Dan Rea, while Warren occupied the not-so-hot seat on the Rachel Maddow Show.  

The Atlantic argues against Mitt Romney’s no-comment campaign.

A federal court clears the way for Florida’s voter roll purge.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Boston is among many urban areas that are growing faster than their suburbs, the Wall Street Journal reports. And the economic downturn has not slowed that growth.

Decas Cranberry Products in Wareham is suing its insurer to recover $200,000 in legal fees the company spent defending itself from a suit filed by rival Ocean Spray Cranberries that accused Decas of spreading false information about the larger company.

The developers of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Base, who had promised to purchase water from the MWRA for the mixed-use project, are now eyeing Brockton as a possible water source for the stalled development.

The Sun profiles the head of New England Studios, a Lowell native.

EDUCATION

Segregation fear sinks a charter school in Nashville, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Would a three-year B.A. help struggling families pay for college? Fay Vincent asks in the Wall Street Journal.

HEALTH CARE

Something about health care handed down by the Supreme Court.  

Jay Cost, at the Weekly Standard, says the health care reform’s individual mandate is exactly what is wrong with Democrats, overlooking the fact the idea was first proposed and championed by conservative Republicans.

The FDA approves a new weight loss drug, NPR reports (via WBUR).

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA bailout is finally a done deal.

US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood pledges infrastructure assistance to Worcester Airport.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Federal tests of New England water supply wells show high levels of naturally-occurring contaminants such as arsenic and radon in 13 percent of 2,000 sites tested, about double the national average.

Smelly seaweed sabotaging shore-based summer sojourns.

The high cost of solar subsidies is forcing governments into making tough budgetary choices, Governing reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The police chief in Danvers is arrested after assaulting his estranged wife and hinting that he wouldn’t be alive the next morning, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

An Oregon man was sentenced to three years in prison yesterday by US District Court Judge Mark Wolf for peddling products that helped people steal Internet access, which does not want to be free.

MEDIA

The New York Times ends a hyper-local experiment. The Nieman Journalism Lab explores what was learned.

The Patriot Ledger, celebrating its 175th anniversary today, will print the paper in the fashion of the 19th century layout and design and is selling it for a nickel, newsboys and all.

The newsonomics of the News Corp. split, from the Nieman Journalism Lab. Time asks: Is this twilight time for Rupert Murdoch?

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