SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters Breakingviews) - Donald Trump just got a chance to do his biggest favor yet for business. The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday hands the U.S. president his third Supreme Court pick since he took office in 2017. He has already appointed 25% of active federal judges too. The resulting anti-regulation bias could last a generation – long after other pro-capital measures like his generous tax cuts have faded into memory.
Ginsburg, the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, was a trailblazer whose views often put her at odds with corporations. She took the unusual step of reading her dissent aloud in a 2007 case against Goodyear Tire & Rubber, which defeated a claim of unequal pay based on gender. She also wrote the majority opinion in a 1997 insider trading case in which she said a person who misappropriates confidential information can be found in violation of Securities and Exchange Commission rules.
Trump now has the chance to name her replacement in a way that gives conservatives an even bigger advantage than the current 5-4 split. His two high court appointees, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, sided with business and Wall Street in several opinions, including a June ruling that the president could remove the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for any reason.
Lower federal courts have gotten an even bigger makeover under this president. Trump has appointed more U.S. appeals court judges than any president since Jimmy Carter, according to the Pew Research Center. Those legal venues often matter more in setting legal precedents as they handle some 35,000 cases a year, compared to fewer than 100 typically heard by the Supreme Court. Trump also has an easier time since in 2017, Senate Republicans reduced the threshold to move a Supreme Court nomination forward from a two-thirds to a simple majority.
Much attention will focus on the court’s role in shaping society through laws relating to abortion, gun ownership and equality. But a conservative court will also favor upholding rollbacks of environmental and labor protections, and other regulations disliked by business. And while Trump has at most four more years as president – for all he may wish it otherwise – Supreme Court justices are there for life, unless Democrats sweep the White House and Senate in November’s election and rewrite the rules. Companies will cheer, even if millions of their employees and customers have reason to grieve.
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