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Busch: Obama's Supreme Court Challenge

Tuesday, 16 Mar 2010 | 10:50 AM ET

In a point I've been making in speeches recently, Congress has very limited time to get things done this year.

Yesterday upon the release of the financial regulatory reform bill, Sen. Dodd said they only have about 60 days to get this done. The summer break and the mid-term elections are going to limit the schedule.

Here's one more big one: expect a Supreme Court retirement this summer. In a bombshell New Yorker interview, Justice John Paul Stevens announced he is likely to retire before Obama leaves office and potentially this summer.

In the interview, he told the reporter he would make up his mind by mid-April.

US Supreme Court
Photo: dbking
US Supreme Court

"Since 1994, Stevens has been the senior Associate Justice and so has been responsible for assigning opinions when the Chief Justice is not in the majority. He has used that power to build coalitions and has become the undisputed leader of the resistance against the conservatives on the Court.

“For those fifteen years, John Stevens has essentially served as the Chief Justice of the Liberal Supreme Court,” Walter Dellinger, who was the acting Solicitor General in the Clinton Administration and is a frequent advocate before the Court, says."

The remaining liberal voters on the court are Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.

Given the potential for big Democratic losses in the House and Senate, Stevens could be contemplating leaving this summer to ensure the President has a strong position to nominate and add a liberal justice to replace him. In case you forgot, the announcement of a Supreme Court or SCOTUS retirement means Congress shuts down almost completely during the process. Given the 5-4 nature of many recent SCOTUS decisions, you can understand why this would occur.

If there is a protracted battle on any nominee or if any nominee is withdrawn after they are proposed, the process has the potential to wipe out most of the summer and part of the fall. This would leave little time to pass any meaningful legislation before Congress adjourns before the mid-term elections.

The process also has the potential to further divide the parties and not generate meaningful work on the remaining issues for the fall: budgets and deficits. It is no small wonder that Moody's indicated that they were concerned over the trajectory of the US deficits and the looming US increase of debt service as a percentage of revenue.

By trajectory, I believe they mean the dedication towards reducing the problem. Given the schedule of Congress and a potential SCOTUS retirement, I believe Moody's is prescient in their analysis and the markets will be disappointed that no meaningful action will be taken on the deficit until 2011.

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Andrew B. BuschDirector, Global Currency and Public Policy Strategist at BMO Capital Markets, a recognized expert on the world financial markets and how these markets are impacted by political events, and a frequent CNBC contributor. You can comment on his piece and reach him hereand you can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/abusch.

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