The unexpected passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February has created a cloud of uncertainty over how the court may decide upcoming environmental and energy-related cases. President Barack Obama’s announcement on March 16 of the nomination of Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, for the Supreme Court vacancy sheds some light on what direction we can expect from the court.

Pending confirmation of this (or any) nomination, the makeup of the Supreme Court now consists of four conservative-leaning justices—Chief Justice John Roberts, and associate justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy (who often sides with the court’s liberal members on social issues)—and four consistent liberals: associate justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Consequently, the ideological balance of the court could be altered with this nomination, depending on whether or not the Republican-majority Senate confirms Garland. Since the passing of Scalia, the Senate Republican leaders have said they would not hold confirmation hearings or vote on President Obama’s nominee—a politically risky move in this election year.

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