There's been a lot of analysis and debate about how the Supreme Court decisions this week will affect the presidential campaign. But this overlooks the most obvious effect of all: The likelihood that the high court itself will jump to the forefront as an issue in the campaign.
The next president will probably have one or more Supreme Court vacancies to fill, and this will shape the nation's laws for many years. If Obama wins, he will name justices in the liberal to moderate mold, such as Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, his two picks so far. If Republican candidate Mitt Romney wins, he is almost certain to choose conservative justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and John Roberts.
All this will be fodder for the campaign, raising the stakes of the presidential election. President Obama has already jumped into the fray. He recently said that a Supreme Court decision that his health-care law is unconstitutional would be "unprecedented," and such a decision would indicate that the justices who opposed the law are "judicial activists."
This prompted Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to advise Obama to "back off." McConnell added: "The president crossed a dangerous line. ... And anyone who cares about liberty needs to call him out on it. The independence of the court must be defended."
At the end of this week, the high court will have addressed three of the most inflammatory issues facing the country: immigration and campaign finance which were decided Monday, and health care care, which is to be announced Thursday. This will trigger a debate over the court itself, and how the next president can either restrain or encourage it, through the nomination process. It will be one of the most important debates of the year.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes a daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.