Has the selection of the justices always been so politically heated? No. But one of the bigger political hot potatoes was when Robert Bork was nominated in 1987. It was just a polarizing nomination. It’s happening now because people are seeing the importance of the Supreme Court.
How much influence does a president have once they’re on the bench? Very little. They have life tenure. There was a case where a president tried to impeach a justice back in 1805, but he was not removed.
How important is this round of nominations? It’s extremely important because of all the decisions that are going to be heard—the death penalty, abortion, criminal rights. Now people know the president fills the vacancies and his appointments create a legacy. People talk of the Reagan legacy being tax cuts, but really it was the impact he had on the judiciary. O’Connor was appointed, Rehnquist was elevated to chief justice, then Scalia and Kennedy were confirmed. In a lot of cases, they have been in the majority, including the Bush vs. Gore decision in 2000.