What is a Swing Vote?

April 8th, 2021

Former Justice Kennedy (Left) and Chief Justice Roberts (Right)

Hello and welcome back to another week at the Supreme Court. This week we will be talking about swing votes, what they are and why they are important.

So, what is a swing vote? Firstly, remember that the Supreme Court has 9 members, meaning if four vote one way and four vote the other, then it is down to one justice to make the ultimate decision. On some courts, there is not a judge that has a tendency to swing one way or the other and there is simply an ideological lead (conservative or liberal). However, for the past 20 odd years there has been a swing vote. The two main swing votes over the past twenty years are Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts.

Justice Kennedy was far more influential in his swing vote capabilities. On things like gay rights, gun rights and the death penalty, he voted liberal. But on issues like abortion, the environment and campaign donations (more on those next week) he votes conservative. Justice Kennedy was referred to as the most powerful person in the country at one point simply because the other 8 justices strictly stuck to party lines, and the decision was often left for Kennedy to make the decision basically on what he felt was the right decision.

Currently, the Court has a similar swing vote, but not nearly as potent. The Chief Justice; John Roberts. His decisions are generally more conservative, and more importantly he seeks the interpret the law, not create new ones. In decisions on things like the Affordable Care Act  (Obamacare) and same-sex marriage he has sided liberal, which might have been unpopular with conservatives, but he does not serve them, he seeks in interpret the law, which he has done well.

That is all this week! The next couple weeks we will be going over extremely impactful cases, specifically on abortion and campaign donations.

2 Responses to “What is a Swing Vote?”

  1. Joseph Doll said:

    I’ve always thought that the supreme court could be too powerful, so when you talked about how Justice Kennedy was ultimately the most powerful man in the country, it really was eye-opening. Good post!

  2. Savannah Bertram said:

    Hi Patrick!

    I really enjoyed reading your blog. This past election, my younger brother was confused as to why there was so much tension around who was voted president because in his mind the next president could just change everything back in four years. I explained to him the importance of supreme court members and how appointing a swinger voter could change generations to come. You’re clearly very intelligent on this matter! Great post!

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