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News from the Votemaster

Steve Jobs and Politics     Permalink

Apple's co-founder and Visionary-in-Chief, Steve Jobs, died yesterday from complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 56 and worth an estimated $8 billion. Unlike Bill Gates, with whom he is often compared, he was a creative genius without parallel. Gates was a clever and very lucky businessman (almost as an afterthought, IBM came to him when it was looking for an operating system for its new personal computer in the early 1980s, and he quickly bought one from a small Seattle company and sold it to IBM as MS-DOS, which later led to Windows). But Jobs was involved in every aspect of Apple's business, which ultimately transformed the computer, music, and telecommunications industries. Obituaries of Jobs can be probably be found in every newspaper in the country.

So what does this have to do with politics and especially the 2012 elections? In two words: pancreatic cancer. It is a deadly disease. Survival rates depend of the type of cancer and how early it is detected, but even if it has not spread, the 5-year survival rate is on the order of 20%. Being one of the most famous and beloved people in the world and with $8 billion in the bank, Jobs could have been treated by any cancer specialist in the world and no doubt he had the best. But it didn't help.

Have any other famous people had pancreatic cancer? Yes. Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (78) was diagnosed with it in 2009 and treated for it. She had previously been treated for colon cancer in 1999 and it is not known if the pancreatic cancer was a secondary tumor resulting from the earlier colon cancer or a new spontaneous mutation. Now possibly Ginsburg is in perfect health and will retire at 90, like John Paul Stevens did last year, but the odds are strongly against it.

Obviously this is premature, but some speculation about what Ginsburg's death or retirement early next year could do to the elections is nevertheless in order. It could radically change the situation and as the court's most liberal member, she is no doubt keenly aware of this. Suppose she were to announce her retirement as of June 2012 for reasons of health, just as Steve Jobs did shortly before his death. President Obama would quickly nominate a successor and we would see the mother of all confirmation fights in the Senate as the Republicans would filibuster any nominee in order to keep the slot open for a potential Republican President in January 2013. If they could replace the court's leading liberal with a conservative, that would cement the conservative majority for years to come as the next oldest justice, Antonin Scalia, is a mere stripling at 75. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's swing vote in many cases, is also 75.

Even if she is healthy, Ginsburg, knowing all this, might decide to resign next year just to change the focus of the presidential election from the economy to the Supreme Court. Then the main issue could easily become: "Who do you want to fill Ginsburg's seat?" The candidates would be endlessly asked about their choices. If Mitt Romney is the GOP nominee, he will be under pressure from the tea party and evangelicals to name someone who is against abortion and gay marriage. But naming a few potential candidates who are very conservative on those issues won't help him with the moderates and independents he badly needs to win. His best bet would be to say: "I dunno. Haven't thought about it too much. I'll let you know in January." But that hardly shows him to be a strong leader, especially if Obama has made one or two choices by then and fought vigorously for their Senate confirmation.

On top of this, if Obama were to name one or two people to the court and have the Republicans filibuster them because they didn't like the nominee's ideology, what would happen if a President Romney were to nominate a conservative? Might the Senate Democrats then simply filibuster all his choices on the grounds "well, you guys did the same thing last year." It could get dicey.

The Republicans could then use the 'nuclear option.' That would work like this. Some Republican senator would object, saying: "Filibustering judicial nominees is unconstitutional because the Senate has a constitutional duty to approve or reject all judicial nominees." The Senate parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, would then be consulted, but his opinion doesn't really matter. Ultimately the President of the Senate (the Vice President of the United States) makes the ruling and if he (or unlikely she) were a Republican, he would sustain the objection. If some Democrat complained about his ruling, as would certainly be the case, the full Senate would then vote to sustain or overturn the ruling by simple majority vote, with no filibuster possible. Once such a precedent had been set, no more judicial filibusters would be possible in the future.

But so far this is just speculation. Ginsburg has not announced any new health problems and has not indicated any plans to retire shortly. But it could happen. Stay tuned.

Palin Will Not Run for President

Sarah Palin has announced she is not going to be a candidate for President in 2012. This statement may disappoint her fans but surprises no serious observer of the political scene because it is far too late to mount a campaign now. If she has wanted to run, she should have started 6 months ago. With New Jersey governor Chris Christie out as well, the Republican field is now set and the nominee will be either Mitt Romney or Rick Perry, probably the former.

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