Four justices on the Supreme Court are in their mid- to late seventies now: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Stephen Breyer. With past as prelude, we can expect any Obama nominees to be reliably liberal in the mold of his two appointments from the first term, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. At a minimum, the president will likely replace the aging liberals Ginsburg and Breyer with younger models. But it’s also possible that Kennedy or Scalia, or both, could leave the bench during the next four years, presenting Obama with an opportunity to forge a liberal majority on the Court.
An invigorated and expanded liberal bloc on the Court could undo many important precedents. The Court’s decisions, for example, protecting speech rights of corporations (Citizens United v. FEC), school choice (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris), and the right to bear arms (District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago) were all decided on 5–4 votes. Challenges to Obamacare and other recent regulations are likely to present the Court with major decisions on religious liberty and federalism over the next few years.
The president’s reelection also has profound implications for the lower courts. Obama will begin his second term with about 90 vacancies to fill among 874 federal judgeships; he has already appointed 126 judges. By the time his second term is over, Obama will probably have appointed over 300 judges and may approach the 379 appointed by Bill Clinton.