French Presidential Election: First Round.

Election fever is in the air – and I am not talking about Northern Ireland, or the UK. I am focusing on France, the citizens of which will take to the polls sooner than June.

This Sunday, France will vote  in the first round of a closely contested Presidential election. After a dramatic campaign, four candidates in particular are all in with a chance of making the top two, and qualifying for the decisive second round on the 7th May. The Presidential election will be followed by a legislative election to elect members of the National Assembly on 11th and 18th June (so France will also engage in more election fever in June. ‘Tis the season…)

Fun fact, part one: Incumbent president François Hollande of the Socialist Party was eligible to run for a second term, but declared in December 2016 he would not be seeking re-election in light of low approval ratings, making him the first incumbent President of the Fifth Republic not to seek re-election.

Fun fact, part two: This is the first French Presidential election in which nominees of both the main centre-left and centre-right parties were selected through open primaries.

‘Closely-contested’ in one way to describe the situation at hand. According to one of the final published polls from this week, just 72 percent of the electorate said they will cast their vote, meaning there are millions of French voters still undecided or planning to abstain.

You see, there is a crammed field, with some real characters in the mix. Moreover, the campaigning and voting is occurring against a heightened backdrop. This is an election held in a country which has endured numerous terrorist attacks (the most recent occurred just this week), is contemplating its own identity, is worried about its position in Europe and internationally, and finds itself at a political crossroads, requiring strong leadership in turbulent times.

There are five key candidates to consider and follow in tomorrow’s first round. Here’s how they got to where they are.

François Fillon of the Republicans, the victor of his party’s first ever open primary, and Marine Le Pen of the National Front had led the first-round opinion polls in November 2016 and mid-January 2017. However, the polls tightened considerably by late January, and after the satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné published revelations that Fillon possibly employed family members in fictitious jobs as parliamentary assistants, Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! (a party he formed barely a year ago) overtook Fillon to place consistently second in first-round polling. At the same time, Benoît Hamon of the Socialist Party won the party’s primary, entering fourth place in the polls. Yet, after strong debate performances, Jean-Luc Mélenchon of Unsubmissive France began to rise significantly in polls in late March, overtaking Hamon to place just below Fillon. Polls for the expected second round of voting further suggest that Fillon, Macron or Mélenchon would beat Le Pen, that Macron or Mélenchon would defeat Fillon, and that Macron would beat Mélenchon.

A reminder about the ‘main five’:

Fillon led a prolific political career starting from the early 1970s, and was Prime Minister from 2007-2012. The surprise winner of the primary of the right – the favourite, former President Nicolas Sarkozy, failed to even make the second round – is pushing liberal economic programme ending the 35-hour workweek in favour of a 48-hour workweek, dismissing 500,000 civil servants, abolishing the wealth tax, streamlining the labour code, and reforming the health insurance system. After the emergence of allegations of fictitious employment of family members, he initially said he would drop his bid if placed under formal investigation. He however continued his candidacy after such investigations began on 15th March.

This isn’t the first Presidential election for Len Pen. She stood in the 2012 Presidential election, and came in third with 17.90% of first-round votes. She rose within the ranks of the National Front, founded and once led by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, culminating in a bitter leadership struggle which she won in 2011. Her campaign programme prioritises the national interests of France and exit from the Eurozone, and emphasises her party’s traditional concern about security and immigration. She also focuses on socioeconomic issues and the sovereignty of the French state, on matters of currency, borders, the economy, and the rule of law.

Macron is the youngest candidate in the race, and is a former economy minister who has never run for elected office. He describes himself as “neither of the right nor the left”. He was appointed Deputy Secretary-General of the Élysée in 2012, and became Economy Minister in 2014, lending his name to the ‘Macron law’ to promote economic growth and opportunities. He founded the En Marche! movement in April 2016 before resigning from the Cabinet on 30 August. The most explicitly pro-European of the candidates, Macron intends to implement reforms to modernise the French economy.

Hamon, a left-wing critic of current President Hollande’s government, was the surprise winner of the Socialist primary in January 2017, which saw him roundly defeat former Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Hamon’s primary victory was driven in part by his support for a universal basic income.He negotiated the withdrawal and support of Yannick Jadot of Europe Ecology – The Greens in February, becoming the joint candidate of both parties. He also advocates for the legalization of cannabis, and reforming the structure of government to a Sixth Republic.

Denouncing the “liberal drift” of the party, Mélenchon left the Socialist Party in 2008 to found the Left Party. Like Le Pen, he also attempted a previous run in 2012, coming in fourth with 11.10% of votes, with the backing of the French Communist Party. However this time around, the fierce critic of the Hollande government launched his 2017 bid without consulting the Communist Party, instead choosing to found his own movement, Unsubmissive France.  He did win the Communist Party’s support, albeit by a narrow margin.  His programme underlines left-wing and environmental principles, including the establishment of a Sixth Republic, redistribution of wealth, renegotiating EU treaties, environmental planning, and protecting the independence of France, namely from the United States.

Phew. Are you still with me? Good.

The President is elected to a five-year term in a two-round election under Article 7 of the Constitution of France. Should no candidate secure an absolute majority of votes in the first round, a second round is held two weeks later between the two candidates who received the most votes. Based on both current polling and tradition, it seems likely this shall be the scenario upon the conclusion of the counting of tomorrow’s votes.

The official campaign began on the 10th April and ended at midnight on the 21st April. From midnight, neither candidates nor French media outlets were allowed to discuss the election. This is a long-standing tradition, which sees France’s Constitutional Council imposing a strict ban on election coverage to protect ‘the sincerity’ of the vote. Large French television outlets will commence posting exit polls an hour or so after the polls close; this will be around 7pm for most areas apart from the larger cities, where polls will close around 8pm.

Tomorrow, voting will commence at 8am, and some 47 million people are eligible to vote. Turnout figures will be released at noon and at 5 pm. At the last Presidential election in 2012, turnout was 79.5% in the first round. Pollsters expect a lower figure on Sunday. If it is substantially down, it could be good news for Le Pen as more of her supporters are determined to turn out. She will be looking to repeat history: in 2002, her father pulled off a huge upset in the first round, when turnout was 72%, to come second, and qualify for the runoff.

Once exit polls have been published, and the results start to become clear, expect the candidates to start giving statements. If, as expected, we will see no candidate emerge with an overall majority win, we will proceed to a second round. That means nine of the eleven candidates will see their candidacy stop after tomorrow. They will, however, have a role to play still by telling their supporters who to support in the second round. And the question becomes this: if Le Pen reaches the second round, will any of the nine aim to rally around her opponent, or will they suggest abstaining from voting?

Regarding the two surviving candidates: immediately, the second round starts. They will have to determine whether to change their talking points to appeal to new voters, or emphasis the same points.

French polls are traditionally topsy-turvy at best, and if the past few years have taught us anything, it is that polls in general are notoriously unreliable (see: UK General Election 2015, UK EU Referendum 2016, US Presidential Election 2016). Speculation abounds, but with tomorrow’s outcome, all we can really do is wait and see.

From snap press conference, to snap General Election.

And so it came to pass, the Tuesday after Easter weekend, that the British Prime Minister did announce her intention to call an early General Election.

What started out as a sudden announcement of a press conference outside Downing Street quickly descended into rampant speculation. Had Queen died? Is Theresa May resigning? Are we going to war with North Korea? Had Theresa May set off Trident? Is Jeremy Corbyn going to organise an Official Opposition? (Then again, maybe not. I did say it was all mere speculation.) And then, because Northern Ireland is that political thorn in the side of the British government these days (we still do not have an Executive, just so you know) there was some murmurings that perhaps the Prime Minister was about to deliver a statement on the political impasse here, and potentially announce the introduction of direct rule.

I thought the chat about the Prime Minister announcing a resignation on health grounds was unlikely. And, I also considered that despite some questionable decisions since last summer, Theresa May was unlikely to have accidently fired Trident. Firing metaphorical shots about Gibraltar is where it stops with this Prime Minister.

On the speculation about the suspension of Stormont, well, I did not think it to be entirely impossible. The British government is keen for resolution here; it has to present a united front of sorts during the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Moreover, no British government has ever enjoyed dealing with the political crises Northern Ireland throws up. However, I ruled this out because any announcement on Northern Ireland, whether to impose direct rule or call yet another snap election, would surely come from the Secretary of State. James Brokenshire has taken the lead on Northern Ireland since the Executive’s collapse over the RHI controversy in early January. Theresa May has taken a back seat, especially over the recent negotiations and their subsequent collapse and re-formation. James Brokenshire had said he would come to a decision after the Easter weekend, and the political parties do seem to be stuck in stalemate. But I doubted the Prime Minister would summon the UK-wide media to a sudden press conference just for Northern Ireland.

That left speculation over an early General Election. This seemed possible to me, with Labour polling in dire straits, with the Conservatives polling strongly in marked contrast. And after all, Theresa May needs a mandate, and urgently. She found herself anointed as Conservative Party leader and thus Prime Minister last summer; she was never elected to be Prime Minister. Attempting to oversee the most divisive operation in Brexit, she needs to say she has the support of the people – at least, the support of the majority of those who vote. Moreover, she does not wish to be simply the Prime Minister who heralded Brexit. As we have seen with her stance on education, particularly around grammar schools, there is a whole domestic policy agenda she wishes to pursue.

The scene is set. The Prime Minister settles down at her podium, ten minutes before she was expected. Truly, we all should have picked up the theme was ‘early’ from that alone.

And so she duly announced she had spoken with her Cabinet, and all had agreed an early election was the most suitable course. It shall be held on the 8th June, and essentially contested on Brexit.

In her statement, May said her government was trying to deliver on last year’s referendum result by making sure Britain regained control and struck new trade deals.

“After the country voted to leave the EU, Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership. Since I became prime minister the government has delivered precisely that,” she said, but claimed that other political parties had opposed her efforts.

“The country is coming together but Westminster is not. Labour have threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach. The Lib Dems have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. Unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.”

Now, Theresa May has been quite clear in the past about wanting the next general election to be in 2020, so she stunned many in Westminster by announcing that it would actually be held this year.  The Prime Minister claimed she had changed her mind “reluctantly”, although the spate of polls putting the Tories as much as 21 points ahead of Labour may have made it easier. You know, 21 points ahead means 21 points ahead. And all this, despite a recent policy blitz by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. Evidently, the Prime Minister was tempted to capitalise on the poor ratings in an effort to boost her slim working majority in order to pass both Brexit and domestic legislation. (This, of course, will render her current reliance on the support of the DUP in the Commons null and void…)

The Prime Minister will first have to win a vote by MPs today to hold an early election thanks to the Fixed Term Parliament Act. Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, she cannot call an election directly, but must laydown a motion in the House of Commons. This will require two-thirds of MPs to back it. The Commons vote will follow a 90-minute debate on Wednesday, after Prime Minister’s Questions and any urgent questions or ministerial statements.

That shouldn’t be too hard for her to win given that Labour has welcomed the move, while the SNP and Liberal Democrats would find it hard to vote against it as they would be effectively voting to keep the Tories in power.

Currently, the Commons composition looks like this: the Conservatives have 330 MPs, giving the party its working majority of 16. Labour has 229, the SNP 54, and the Lib Dems 8. The DUP hold 8, Sinn Féin 4, the SDLP 3, and the UUP 2, with one Independent. Plaid Cymru have 3 seats, the Greens 1, and there are four other independents. (Note that UKIP recently lost their only MP, when Douglas Carswell announced his resignation from the party. If he votes with his old party, the Conservatives, he gives the government a majority of 17.) Based on current polling, Labour could lose around 70 seats.

The Conservative leader said the vote would give “certainty and stability” to the country for the Brexit process. As nothing promises stability and certainty quite like an early General Election on the most divisive issue of our times in Brexit.

Moreover, Theresa May might have hurt her public image slightly by calling this election. After vowing for months that she would not seek a snap election, insisting she would see the government through to the next statutory General Election in 2020, she now appears to have gone back on her word for the sake of her party, and party seats. The Independent has rather helpfully complied a list of her statements on the issue of an early election. It is worth highlighting that the most recent comment on the issue came just under a month ago.

This will be the second General Election in as many years, and the third UK-wide vote in two years. But spare a thought for my fellow citizens in Northern Ireland. We have had two Assembly elections in less than a year, and now have to return to the polls in a few months. And it gets better: if there is no agreement reached between the main political parties, we face the prospect of a third Assembly election in a few months, too.

Of course, one could argue that the decision of the Cabinet to support the Prime Minister in calling for an early General Election, during a time of political instability in Northern Ireland, is evidence of their (dis)regard for the peace process here. One could argue this. But as for myself, I’m digging around for my canvassing shoes. It is going to be a long few weeks.

US Supreme Court blocks Arkansas from multiple executions.

The US Supreme Court has concluded a dramatic day of legal debate over Arkansas’ unprecedented plan to execute eight prisoners in just 11 days.

The Supreme Court declined to permit the state to go ahead with Monday night’s scheduled executions, in what amounted to a major victory for the condemned inmates’ lawyers and anti-death penalty campaigners. The outcome is certain to give weight to the other pending cases, and confidence to the defense lawyers of the remaining five death-row inmates who still face execution, starting with Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee on Thursday of this week.

The Supreme Court took several hours to reach its decision, finally announcing at 11.50pm that it had declined to lift a stay on the execution of Don Davis, 54, imposed earlier in the day by the Supreme Court of Arkansas. The judgment brought the number of condemned prisoners who have now been spared the audacious execution schedule set by Republican State Governor Asa Hutchinson to three. The State Governor has found himself in a rush to use a batch of the lethal injection drug midazolam before it expires at the end of the month. Had the Governor’s proposed schedule gone according to plan, it would have marked the most intense schedule of executions in the US in more than 50 years. Even double executions on the same day are rare; the last time it was attempted, by Oklahoma in 2014, it led to a “bloody mess”.

Scott Braden, an attorney for Davis, said the US Supreme Court Justices had heard that Davis had been denied proper independent counsel on the question of his mental health. According to his defence counsel, Davis has an intellectual disability, a history of head injuries, brain damage, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other mental health conditions.

In a statement, Hutchinson said:

“While this has been an exhausting day for all involved, tomorrow we will continue to fight back on last-minute appeals and efforts to block justice for the victims’ families.”

Hutchinson’s schedule had seemed certain to proceed, after a ruling from the Eighth Circuit Appeals Court in St Louis, Missouri, which overturned an earlier temporary injunction imposed by a federal judge. That had opened up the possibility that at least six executions might still go ahead between now, and the end of April.

The Eighth Circuit Appeal overturned the ruling by federal district judge Kristine Baker, in which she questioned the reliability of midazolam, the sedative that is used as the first chemical in Arkansas’ triple lethal injection protocol.

“If midazolam does not adequately anaesthetise plaintiffs, or if their executions are ‘botched’, they will suffer severe pain before they die,” Baker wrote in her opinion.

Until the decision came down from the US Supreme Court, officials with the Arkansas Department of Corrections had been undertaking preparations for the execution to go ahead. Davis had been given his final meal, witnesses had been put in place in the death chamber, and the execution team was being readied.

Of course, Hutchinson’s schedule has merely been limited, not curtailed in its entirety. Attention now swings to the next set of executions on Thursday and beyond. The governor’s spokesperson underlined the determination of the state to press on with its grim timescale. The spokesperson has said the state “will continue, on Thursday, on Monday and then Thursday”, referring to the schedule of death warrants that allows for two executions to take place on each of the next two set dates, and one on 27 April.

But lawyers for the next prisoners set to be executed are already gearing up for an intense legal battle. The influential Innocence Project has joined local defence lawyers in Arkansas to call for DNA testing in the case of Johnson, and the ACLU has also now filed on behalf of Lee on grounds of DNA testing and innocence, and intellectual disability.

As a new death warrant would have to be set for Davis and Ward, with the process of final review of their cases having to start from scratch, it is understood there is not time to reschedule their executions this month in time to avail of the midazolam before its expiration date.

It must be recalled that due to strict distribution controls imposed by more than 30 drug companies in the US and abroad, it is now very difficult for states which carry out the death penalty to acquire medicines for use in state executions.

It remains to be seen what unfolds for the other men currently scheduled for execution. It also remains to be seen whether the death penalty is slowly but surely scheduled for its own end in the USA.

 

Child tax credit limit reform.

In March, a controversial proposal became law without any debate or vote in the UK Parliament. It requests new mothers who are rape survivors for verification if they wish to claim tax credits for more than two children.

The 6th of April marked an important, albeit shameful date in the political and social calendar. It marked the date when the new change to child tax credit policy came into effect. What change? The one which says any child, the third in the family, born after the 6th April 2017, will not eligible for child tax credit for that family. It also saw the coming into effect of the ‘rape clause’.

The regulations, announced in the 2015 Budget by the then-Chancellor, George Osborne, were put into law through a statutory instrument, a form of legislation that allows laws to be amended without parliament’s approval. The policy implemented on 6 April restricts tax credit entitlement for new claimants to a maximum of two children, with exceptions for multiple births – and for women who could show that their third or subsequent child was conceived as a result of rape.

Those seeking to claim the exemption for rape must be assessed by what the British government has described in a consultation as a “professional third party”, which could include health workers, police, social workers or rape charities.

The Department for Work and Pensions has described the changes to tax credits as “a key part of controlling public spending”, and has pledged to implement the exemptions in “the most effective, compassionate way”.

Controlling public spending. This is an ideological battle of finance, a promulgation of the lazy stereotype that the poor claim hard-earned taxpayers’ money. It is not about consideration of all citizens. This is not about compassion.Moreover

It is wrong that the British government’s reforms of child tax credit target women and families from socio-deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds.

How many families might be thrust into poverty because of this? Policy in Practice recently published a paper which estimates child poverty could be driven up by 10% by 2020. You see, families receiving child tax credit are using it to bring up their children, to assist them in times of ever-increasing cost of living. It is not, and never has been, about receiving ‘freebies’. It is not, and never has been, about incentives to keep giving birth and claim state handouts.

Try as I might, I cannot forget the week beginning 3rd April, and the implementation of these reforms. These reforms are essentially an attack on women and single mothers. If you oversee a family of more than two children, and you struggle to make ends meet, this government will punish you for having that third child. If you are a woman with a struggling family, or a single mother with a struggling family, the government is telling you it shall not assist you with your children, because you dared to have three. You are too poor to have more than two children, whereas your middle class peer is welcome to have three children.

A man might have multiple children with multiple partners, and he shall not suffer the consequence of these reforms. Women, who comprise the majority of primary -givers, will feel the repercussions of this policy.

This is punishing poorer women. This is punishing children. Child poverty could increase by 10% within three years as a consequence of these reforms, but the government does not care. It does not want to assist the less well-off in society, despite evidence illustrating that investing in early years and children pays off. Lifting children and families out of poverty increases their future prospects – health, education, self-esteem, well-being, mental health. This government talks abut looking after the JAMs, the Just About Managing, but apparently only so far as they do not have more than two children.

Moreover…It is reprehensible that the British government’s reforms of child tax credit include making women prove their third child was the result of rape.

It is degrading and wrong to expect rape survivors to recount their ordeal. It is heartbreaking that such a callous policy was ever mentioned, let alone implemented by the British government. This ‘rape  clause’ might open women to re-traumatisation; it takes no account of their dignity and humanity but cares only about finances.

Imagine being a survivor of rape. Imagine discovering you are pregnant. Imagine making that difficult decision to keep the baby. Imagine opening a form, just to see you are expected to sign a little box which says your third child was the result of ‘non-consensual conception’ – a jumble of policy-speak, lacking empathy and understanding of your painful circumstances.

But then again, this is just an exercise in curtailing excessive public spending. The British government is going about this exercise in the most compassionate way.

Really.

 

A month away, and look what happens.

Hello all,

Rest assured that despite representations to the contrary, I am in fact still alive and active on this blog. It appears that real life i.e. work, and postgraduate studies, have taken over for a period of time.

But Leah, I hear you cry. There was a snap election in Northern Ireland. There is ongoing political stalemate and negotiations in your part of the world. Where have you been?

Forsooth, I wish I had covered the Assembly election from 2nd March. I was, however, an active canvasser for my political party – which really can take it out of a girl. However, I will have some posts about the election and the continuing aftermath uploaded in due course.

It really has been a case of Too Much News and political shenanigans. It can be rather hard to keep up on a daily basis. I shall endeavour to keep an eye on things, and report back here when I can.

Until then, I have two MA assignments to work on, and a human rights working group to participate in. There is never any rest for the wicked, of this I do swear.

And anyway, when all else fails, Theresa May will call an early General Election. What ever happened to UK politics? Remember the days when the most startling news was the revelation that Ed Miliband couldn’t eat a sandwich, and David Cameron left his daughter at a pub on a family holiday? What a difference a year – and a divisive referendum on EU membership – makes.

Confirmation process of a US Supreme Court nominee.

Today marks the start of the most convoluted Supreme Court confirmation battles in history. Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick to replace Justice Scalia, will appear before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, and endure questioning as to his eligibility to become the country’s 113th Supreme Court justice.

I recently wrote about the issues behind the nomination process, namely that the Democrats might seek to block the nomination following the Republicans’ successful campaign to block President Obama’s nominee last year.

As the hearing gets underway, I thought it might be useful to examine the process itself, and consider how today’s process will compare to other Supreme Court confirmations in recent years.

Confirmation Process

The appointment and confirmation of Justices to the US Supreme Court involves following several steps laid down within the United States Constitution, which have been further refined and developed by decades of tradition. Candidates are nominated by the President of the United States, and must face a series of hearings during which both the nominee and other witnesses make statements and answer questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Committee can vote to send the nomination to the full United States Senate. Confirmation by the Senate enables the President to formally appoint the candidate to the court.

In modern times, the confirmation process has garnered some attention from special-interest groups, many of which lobby senators to confirm or to reject a nominee, depending on whether the nominee’s track record aligns with the group’s views.

The Senate Judiciary Committee conducts hearings, questioning nominees to determine their suitability. By convention, nominees avoid revealing too much about their views on the Constitution. At the close of confirmation hearings, the Committee votes on whether the nomination should go to the full Senate with a positive, negative or neutral report.

At the Senate, a simple majority vote is required to confirm or to reject a nominee. However, a successful filibuster threat could add the requirement of a supermajority of 60 needed in favour of cloture, which would allow debate to end and force a final vote on confirmation. Rejections are relatively uncommon –  the Senate has explicitly rejected just twelve Supreme Court nominees in its history. While Senators may attempt to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee in an attempt to thwart confirmation, no nomination for Associate Justice has ever been filibustered.

Once the Senate confirms the nomination by an affirmative vote, the Secretary of the Senate attests to a resolution of confirmation and transmits it to the White House. The President then prepares and signs a commission, and causes the Seal of the United States Department of Justice to be affixed to the document before the new Justice can take office. The date of commission determines a Justice’s seniority. A ceremony is then held, in which the Justice must take the Constitutional Oath, used for every federal and state officeholder below the President, and the Judicial Oath, used for federal judges before entering into the execution of their office.

Past Confirmation hearings: the Bush Administration

President George W. Bush’s first opportunity to make a Supreme Court nomination came in July 2005, when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her intention to retire. This was the first vacancy on the Court in over a decade. Bush nominated D.C. Circuit Judge John Roberts on 19th July, 2005. While his nomination was pending, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who had been battling thyroid cancer, passed away on the 3rd September.

With Justice Rehnquist’s passing, Bush then had to rethink his strategy for filling two vacancies on the Supreme Court. He decided to withdraw Roberts’ nomination to be an Associate Justice, instead announcing him as his nominee for Chief Justice on the 5th September. The Senate Judiciary Committee met across the 12th – 15th September for Judge Roberts’ confirmation hearing, and one week later, the Committee voted 13-5, with three Democrats joining the Republicans, to send him to the full Senate. The Senate voted to confirm Roberts on the 29th September 2005, just in time for him to join the Court before the start of its 2005-2006 term the following week.

After deciding to nominate Judge Roberts to be Chief Justice, Bush initially selected White House Counsel Harriet Miers – a lawyer who served as Bush’s personal lawyer before he became President – as the nominee for Associate Justice on the 3rd October. As a result of a campaign by conservatives who wanted a nominee with a demonstrated conservative record and judicial experience, Miers withdrew her nomination weeks later.

Bush then announced his pick of Third Circuit Judge Samuel Alito on the 31st October. Judge Alito’s hearing was not held until 9th – 13th January. Less than two weeks later, on the 24th January, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 to send him to the full Senate. Some 24 Senators, -including one Sen Obama – attempted to lead a filibuster to block Judge Alito’s confirmation, but they were unsuccessful.

The Senate ultimately confirmed Alito by a vote of 58-42 on the 31st January 2006, with four Democrats joining the Republicans.

(And as fate would have it, Obama as President later expressed regrets about this filibuster attempt when Senate Republicans announced they would not confirm a nominee to the vacancy left by Justice Scalia’s passing during Obama’s final year in office.)

The Obama Administration

President Barack Obama’s first opportunity to pick a Supreme Court justice came when Justice David Souter announced his retirement in 2009. Obama selected Second Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor, making the announcement on the 26th May.

Judge Sotomayor’s hearing was held across the 13th – 16th July. Highlights from the hearing include Republican senators grilling Judge Sotomayor about her ‘controversial‘ views, including her claim that appellate courts “make policy”, and that she believed “a wise Latina woman” would “reach a better conclusion than a white male” judge. Two weeks later, the Senate Judiciary committee voted 13-6 to send her to the full Senate. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham joined Democrats on the committee in that vote. Nine days later, on the 6th August 2009, the Senate voted to confirm Sotomayor by a vote of 68-31, with nine Republicans voting for her confirmation.

The following year, Obama had another chance to nominate a Supreme Court Justice. He chose his Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, announcing the nomination on the 10th May 2010.

Obama administration senior adviser David Axelrod later recounted the story of Justice Scalia approaching him at an event shortly after Justice Souter announced he would retire in 2009. Scalia apparently said to Axelrod: “I have no illusions that your man will nominate someone who shares my orientation … But I hope he sends us someone smart.” He continued, “Let me put a finer point on it … I hope he sends us Elena Kagan.”

Kagan’s hearing took place across 28th June to the 1st July. Three weeks later, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 to send her to the full Senate. Once again, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham joining the Democrats in the vote. Two weeks later, the Senate voted 63-37 to confirm her. Five Republicans and two Independents joined the Democrats.

As the Obama administration came to a close, it seemed unlikely that another vacancy would occur on the Supreme Court. Then on the 13th February 2016, the news broke that Justice Scalia had died.

The upcoming Presidential election thus suddenly took on a new level of significance as Senate Republicans vowed to keep the seat open so that the next President could fill it. Nevertheless, Obama nominated Merrick Garland, Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit, but Senate Republicans refused to allow the nomination to move forward.

And so here we are today, awaiting the first day of Committee hearings for Judge Gorsuch. Whether the cross-party support in voting to send a candidate to the full Senate as witnessed during both the Bush and Obama administrations will be witnessed is the key question.

Mr Osborne goes to London… Evening Standard.

George Osborne’s career looked finished after the overall vote for Brexit, and after he was unceremoniously ousted from Cabinet by the newly-crowned Prime Minister, Theresa May. The final nail in the coffin, it was thought, was when it emerged that his parliamentary seat of Tatton would be abolished in the boundary review. It seemed as though the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, having lost the Brexit gamble, had lost his political gravitas.

But then again, maybe not. For Mr Osborne has now found himself a safe seat – the Editor’s chair at the London Evening Standard.

Mr Osborne is expected to take up the new role in May, while keeping his seat in Parliament. He will have to balance his time carefully in order to fit in his other jobs: advising the investment manager Blackrock, chairing the Northern Powerhouse project, working as a Kissinger fellow at the McCain Institute and his speaking on the after-dinner circuit. His bulging portfolio has led to calls for him to stand down as MP for Tatton.

Yet Mr Osborne believes he can manage both jobs as ‘this paper is edited primarily in the morning’, while ‘Parliament votes in the afternoon’. This is rather ambitious: surely an editor needs to be an active presence in the evening, to confirm the final version before print? Extraordinary time management indeed.

Then again, one can afford such management. It has been suggested that since his fall from Cabinet grace, Mr Osborne has garnered more than £700,000 from public speaking; secured a £650,000 stipend for four days’ work a month from BlackRock; been granted a £120,000 fellowship at the McCain Institute; and can now expect to take home more than £220,000 for a four-day week at the Standard. That’s on top of his £75,000 salary as an MP.

Needless to say, the announcement of the selection of Mr Osborne caused such a furore, because MPs who undertake second jobs will now fear Mr Osborne’s dealings will lead to a crackdown on outside earnings that, in turn, will cost them money. Already it has been suggested that this will trigger an official review by the UK’s chief standards watchdog, the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

And so cue the argument for Mr Osborne to step down from his position as a MP immediately. This is not just on the basis of money, but also on the basis of the conflict of interest argument.

Claims of a conflict of interest between his membership of the third and fourth estates -and between his City and newspaper roles – are loud. It has to be said: how can Mr Osborne edit a newspaper, de facto positioning it along a political axis, whilst undertaking advisory work at BlackRock? How will he juggle engaging in private MP meetings, and overseeing political columns?

The former Chancellor’s break into journalism will give him considerably more influence than he would have as just a humble backbencher. Might it just offer him a means to exacting revenge on his political rivals?

It was noticeable that Number Ten was not in the loop over the former Chancellor’s work. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman was rendered speechless when the news was broken to him in his regular morning briefing.

Mr Osborne himself has made clear he would not be above giving his own government a hard time:

“We will judge what the government, London’s politicians and the political parties do against this simple test: is it good for our readers and good for London? If it is, we’ll support them. If it isn’t, we’ll be quick to say so.”

It might be argued that by taking on the position of editor of a newspaper with an estimated circulation of one million in the City of London, Mr Osborne might just be able to wield some political influence, namely through the political position adopted by the paper.

The main issue is that of Brexit: the former Chancellor was firmly on board with former Prime Minister David Cameron in campaigning for Remain. The current government is tasked with acquiring and implementing Brexit, but seems keen to go a step further than merely withdrawing from the EU – exit from the Single Market has been voiced. Mrs May has been adamant in her stance that there will not be an ongoing briefing to Parliament during negotiations – probably to prevent any criticism at home from weakening her position. Nevertheless, the media will still cover the negotiations to the best of their ability – the coverage – and angle – offered by the Standard during this time will be interesting.

Moreover, whilst Mr Osborne will no doubt be careful not to attack Mrs May personally, he could just use the paper to campaign for policies that will put him on a collision course with her instincts for more state invention on economics and immigration, on the basis that these are issues particularly important for London.

But any potential power of this position should not be overestimated. It should be remembered that the Standard’s current track record of persuasion is not exactly impressive. The Standard did come out in favour of Remain (check out that not-exactly-complementary reference to George Osborne) during the EU referendum last year, and London as a whole did vote Remain. However, on the basis of party politics: the Standard supported the Conservative Party in the general election of 2015, but it was the Labour Party who dominated. Moreover, the Standard supported Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith in the 2016 London Mayoral election (who had announced his support for the UK to leave the EU) – Labour candidate Sadiq Khan was the victor.

Spare a thought during all of this for the constituents of Tatton. How must they feel, knowing their MP has multiple jobs and has declared himself a ‘Londoner’? As the MP for Tatton, Mr Osborne has duties in the North of England which do not align with his new-found duties as a newspaper editor in the South.

No doubt there will be more coverage of this story, and further developments. It is something to note though that on the same week the Prime Minister publicly reversed her Chancellor’s announcement on his policy of NI and the self employed – to his embarrassment, surely – the former Chancellor has proven he is quite content with life outside of the Cabinet circle – and that he hasn’t gone away.