Scalia: Controversial, Yet Unknown

Gallup: From the American public’s perspective, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “was one of the high court’s controversial figures. In July of last year, popular perceptions of the conservative jurist were evenly divided, with 29% seeing him favorably and 27% unfavorably. Scalia, whom one prominent legal scholar named “the most influential justice of the last quarter-century,” was nonetheless unknown to nearly a third of Americans (32%) and generated no opinion from another 12% in 2015, Scalia’s 29th year on the nation’s top court.”

Trend: Favorability of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

“Interestingly, the modest erosion of Scalia’s popularity over the past 15 years came primarily not from increased Democratic hostility to the Republican-appointed judge but rather because of souring Republican views. In 2015, Scalia’s ‘net favorable’ rating — the difference between his favorable and unfavorable ratings — among Republicans was +6, down considerably from +36 in 2005. This drop — the largest among any of the three major political affiliations — may have been a bitter pill to swallow for one of the court’s most reliably conservative votes.”

z’Paralleling Scalia’s declining popularity among Republicans has been a striking increase in unfavorable views of him among conservatives. In 2005, 36% of conservatives viewed Scalia favorably, compared with 7% who had an unfavorable view. In 2015, Scalia’s favorable rating with conservatives held steady (34%), but his unfavorable rating surged to 26%. Somewhat unexpectedly, Scalia’s 2015 net favorable score among conservatives (+8) was about on par with his score among moderates (+6).”

 

How an Obama Nominee Could Win Senate Confirmation

Charles Cameron and John Kastellec in The Washington Post argue that an Obama Supreme Court nominee could win confirmation in the Senate.

Using the statistical model in that paper and the ideologies of current senators, we can estimate the support that a given nominee of any ideological persuasion would receive. We’ll assume a high quality nominee and intense interest group mobilization (similar to that in the nomination of Justice Clarence Thomas).

“The horizontal axis depicts the ideology of the nominee, moving from extremely liberal to moderate  to conservative. For every potential nominee, we estimate how each senator would vote, and then sum the total number of yes votes, which is depicted on the vertical axis.”

“The five names in black type depict the current median on the court (Kennedy) as well as the court’s four liberals. The short bars at the top of the figure show the ideological locations of every senator, with Democrats in blue and Republicans in red.”

“The model does identify a range of nominees who could thread the confirmation needle. In the graph, the justices in purple serve as reference points for nominees who (roughly speaking) lie between the 50-vote threshold and Kennedy.”

America’s Teachers Are Confused About Climate Change

City Lab: “Given the topic’s partisan grip in the U.S., with many conservatives unlikely to trust mainstream news outlets, early education has a huge role to play, too. That’s a problem, according to a new study in the journal Science, because many middle- and high-school teachers are confused about climate change themselves.”

Researchers “conducted what they call the ‘first nationally representative survey of science teachers focused on climate change’ … The researchers found that most teachers devoted only about an hour or two of class time to climate change … But the quality of that education was often as poor as the quantity: only 54 percent of teachers emphasized the consensus view among scientists that modern warming is the result of human activity and not likely due to natural causes.”

“Instead, a considerable share of teachers (roughly 31 percent) offered students the mixed message that current climate change is caused by both humans releasing greenhouse gases and natural shifts in temperature. The survey found that one in 10 teachers denied the human source of global warming in the classroom—only telling students that it’s the result of nature. Another 5 percent offered no causal explanation for climate change at all.”

“A key problem, according to the researchers, is that teachers themselves seem to be ‘unaware of the extent of scientific agreement.’”

 

Anti-Incumbent Mood is Strong

Gallup: Barely half of U.S. voters think their own member of Congress deserves re-election, and just 27% say most members deserve another turn. These findings are on par with voters’ attitudes in October 2014 and slightly improved from the historically weak levels seen in early 2014 but otherwise are among the weakest for incumbents since 1992.

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“The historically low levels of Americans saying that their own and most members deserve re-election reflect Congress’ dismal job rating, mostly registering at or below 20% in Gallup’s monthly polling for the past five years. If the anti-incumbent mood continues into the fall, Congress could see relatively high turnover, similar to 1992 and 2010 when fewer than 93% of incumbents were re-elected. On the other hand, incumbents did quite well in 2014 — with a 95% re-election rate in the House — in spite of historically low ‘deserves to be re-elected’ numbers. The turnover that did occur was all in the Republicans’ favor.”

“When anti-incumbency fervor coincides with a presidential year, the other possibility is that the losing party in the presidential race takes the brunt of the seat losses, which happened to Republicans in 2008. And while that’s not a guarantee, the heft of the Republicans’ current majority means the GOP has the most to lose from the public’s desire for change in Congress.”

How Trump’s Campaign Embodies the Real GOP

Eugene Robinson claims that Trump’s campaign “has done a tremendous service by forcing the GOP establishment to deal with truths it would prefer to ignore. Trump runs around letting cats out of bags, and they are not easily put back in.”

“Republicans love to talk tough about illegal immigration, for example, and use the issue to bludgeon Democrats. But when Trump takes the bombast to its logical conclusion — all right, then, let’s deport the 11 million undocumented — the establishment has to hem and haw about how all that partisan rhetoric wasn’t meant to be taken literally.”

“Likewise, Republicans love to suggest that Democrats are somehow soft in the fight against terrorism here and abroad … But when Trump called for temporarily banning all foreign Muslims from entering the country, other candidates who try their best to sound hawkish had to acknowledge that Islam itself isn’t really the problem.”

“Trump challenges his party’s economic orthodoxy as well. He calls himself a ‘free trader’ but opposes existing trade pacts as unfair; Republicans have historically championed free trade but are loath to examine what agreements such as NAFTA have really meant for working-class jobs. Trump promises to somehow reduce the $19 trillion national debt but wants to expand entitlements, not shrink them; many GOP voters, it turns out, feel the same way.”

The Economy Finally Takes Center Stage In the Primaries

Five Thirty Eight: “The presidential race is at last shifting to two states — Nevada and South Carolina — that are actually experiencing the economic turmoil that has often dominated the campaigns of both parties. The results there might provide a clearer window into which candidates are most successfully tapping into voters’ economic anxieties.”

“The first two nominating contests played out in states that are, as commentators have repeatedly noted, far whiter than the country as a whole. Less noticed has been that Iowa and New Hampshire are also extremes economically. Both are small, rural and — especially in the case of New Hampshire — relatively wealthy states with strong local economies. Both states have unemployment rates below 3.5 percent, significantly better than the national mark of 4.9 percent. Neither experienced the worst of the Great Recession, and both are among the most equal states in terms of household income.”

“The next two states on the primary calendar, by contrast, much more closely embody the economic issues that polls show are at the top of voters’ minds.”

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Would Scalia Approve of GOP’s Delay Tactics?

Ezekiel Emanuel in The Washington Post argues that “a true ‘originalist’ would reject the Republican position” of blocking a presidential supreme court nominee in “order to defer to the American people.”

“An originalist would begin by looking at what the Constitution says about choosing a Supreme Court justice. An originalist would note that the framers clearly wanted the court to be insulated from the people’s wishes. To put them above the clash of politics, the Constitution gave justices lifetime appointments, to which they were nominated, not elected. Furthermore, justices were nominated by a president who was elected by an Electoral College — not the American public — and confirmed by a Senate elected, at the framing, by state legislatures — again, not the public. Originalism clearly argues against deferring to public opinion on the composition of the Supreme Court.”

“The history of the founding generation itself also makes clear that the framers wanted the Supreme Court nomination and confirmation process not to depend upon the outcome of an election.”

The Fading Dream of Home Ownership

Washington Post: “The housing bust turned a lot of homeowners into renters … As a result, the national homeownership rate has dropped since the peak of the bubble in 2005, by about five percentage points. That decline, though, has been notably concentrated among certain groups: Hispanics, men, older millennials, and people living in certain unlucky corners of the country.”

“These demographics are the most likely to have ‘lost the American dream,’ as an analysis by housing website Trulia puts it. The renter rate is up in every large metropolitan area in the country since 2006, according to American Community Survey data (the study looked at the 50 largest metros, minus a handful with insufficient data). Within those metros, it’s risen the most for these groups. The Hispanic renter rate rose by 8.7 percentage points … For 26-to-34 year-olds, it rose by nearly 11 percentage points.”

Which Residents Are Positive About Their State Economy?

Gallup: “Residents of the U.S. states show wide variation in their evaluations of their state economies, with Utah residents the most positive and Illinois residents the most negative. Those living in North Dakota, Texas, Nebraska, Colorado and Minnesota are also very positive about economic conditions in their state.”

Confidence in State's Economy, 2015

“Americans are much more positive about their state economies than they are about the national economy, and in no state are they more positive about their state economy than in Utah … Residents in several energy-producing states are upbeat about the current state of their economy, but harbor doubts about whether the good times will continue.”

“Illinois, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Connecticut are the four states in which residents are more pessimistic than optimistic about the state economy. Residents’ views of the economy in these states are not necessarily just a reflection of how the state is doing economically. For example, West Virginia has one of the higher unemployment rates in the nation, but Illinois, Rhode Island and Connecticut are closer to the national average. And all but West Virginia saw economic growth in the early part of 2015, with Connecticut and Rhode Island growing faster than the national average. Other factors, such as frustration with the government and real or perceived tax burden, may also color the way residents in these states view their state’s economy.”

Is the Solar Boom Real?

MIT Technology Review: “By all accounts, 2016 should be a great year for solar power providers.”

“But investors are not feeling the love. This week shares of U.S. solar leader SolarCity tumbled to a new low, while several other solar companies also took a pounding. Last month Nevada introduced sharp cutbacks in its program for net metering—the fees paid to homeowners with rooftop solar installations for excess power they send back to the grid …. Across the country, as many as 20 other states are considering such changes, which would dramatically alter the economics of rooftop solar.”

“The rosier projections for grid parity usually assume that both net metering fees from utilities and government subsidies will continue … Without subsidies, the picture looks a lot bleaker. If each state added a $50 per month fixed charge to solar owners’ bills—a change that many big utilities are fighting for—solar would be at grid parity in only two states.”

“All the recent turbulence aside, it’s likely that solar’s longer-term future in the U.S. remains bright. Renewable portfolio standards, the state-level mandates that establish minimum renewable-energy requirements, will drive the addition of 89 gigawatts of new solar capacity over the next 10 years … Solar prices will continue to fall; a study by Oxford University researchers, published last month in Research Policy, found that annual price declines of 10 percent will continue well into the next decade, enabling solar to supply 20 percent of global energy needs by 2027. And falling costs and wider availability of solar systems coupled with energy storage will enable solar households to store energy for later use, making rooftop solar more economical on its own—regardless of whether it ever reaches true grid parity.”

Even With a Republican Win, How Obama Could Win the Supreme Court Battle

Ari Melber of NBC News argues that “even if the Senate refuses to confirm Obama’s pick and a Republican wins the White House, there is one way Obama can still get his nominee confirmed.

“It could all come down to 17 crucial days in January.”

“If Democrats win back the Senate and lose the White House in November, they would control both branches of government for about two weeks before Obama leaves office. That overlap in the transition of power is set in stone. The Constitution mandates the new Congress begins work on January 3, while President Obama stays in power until January 20.”

“So if Democrats take back the Senate, President Obama could send a Supreme Court nominee to that new Democratic majority, which would have 17 days to change the filibuster rules and ram in a vote before a new President takes power.”

“Democrats could apply the ‘nuclear option’ to Supreme Court nominations, and vote in Obama’s nominee by a simple majority.”

“The prospect of a January power play sets up a potential alternative outcome — where the Supreme Court vacancy actually turns on the result of the Senate races.”

“In fact, if Republicans completely block a ‘consensus’ Obama nominee all year and then lose the Senate, Obama might be tempted to appoint an even more liberal replacement for Scalia in January.”

History Supports Obama Naming a Supreme Court Nominee

Timothy Huebner in The New York Times argues that “President Obama has constitutional and historical precedent on his side and should announce a nominee.”

“In fact, history supports Mr. Obama. On 13 occasions, a vacancy on the nation’s highest court has occurred — through death, retirement or resignation — during a presidential election year. This does not include the most recent and frequently cited example, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was nominated by Ronald Reagan in November 1987 to fill a vacancy and won confirmation from a Democratic-controlled Senate in February 1988.”

“In 11 of these instances, the Senate took action on the president’s nomination. In all five cases in which a vacancy occurred during the first quarter of the year the president successfully nominated a replacement.”

“To be sure, the Senate has rejected nominees for political reasons, increased the size of the court (for instance, during the Civil War) or reduced it (immediately after the Civil War). But in cases when vacancies have arisen during election years, the weight of history is clearly on the side of the president naming a successor and the Senate acting on that nomination.”

“The Republicans, who frequently cite the Constitution and look to historical precedent, have an opportunity to be true to their principles. They should ignore Donald Trump’s urging to ‘delay, delay, delay,’ and help ensure our Constitution functions as it should — and as it has in the past.”

Americans Say Experience in Government is Best for Presidency

Gallup: “Almost three in four U.S. adults — 72% — say that governing a state provides excellent or good preparation for someone to be an effective president. This number is slightly higher than the percentages who say the same about being in the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives (65%) or serving as secretary of state (63%). Smaller majorities believe that serving as a member of the president’s Cabinet (56%) or being a business executive (51%) provides this level of preparation.”

How Well Occupations Prepare Candidates for the Presidency

“Similar percentages of Republicans (76%) and Democrats (74%) say that being a governor helps prepare someone for the presidency, but there is a major split between the parties on the perceived effectiveness of serving in Congress. About the same percentage in each party thinks serving in Congress is good preparation (43% of Democrats and 45% of Republicans), but only 16% of Republicans believe it is excellent preparation, compared with 30% of Democrats.”

“With majorities still saying they think experience as a governor or a member of Congress is an asset, one of the keys to this year’s election will be how much value voters attach to such experience. If Trump can overcome those views and succeed in winning the election, he will be the first president who has been neither a governor nor a member of Congress since Dwight Eisenhower left office in January 1961.”