I’ve been updating the code underlying the Supreme Court death calculator, with an emphasis on greater mathematical precision and increased code elegance. Meanwhile, Justice Scalia has died.
For the record, I would not have predicted this. If you look at the CDC life tables, and scroll to page 35 (“Table 14. Life table for non-Hispanic white males: United States, 2010”), then scroll a little further down, you’ll see that, of 100,000 non-Hispanic white males born in the United States, 53,857 will survive to their 79th birthday. Justice Scalia would have been 84.9 years old on Inauguration Day, 2021. Of those 53,857 who make it to their 79th birthday, 38,053 are still alive on their 84th birthdays; 34,567 are alive on their 85th. So if you count 84.9 as “84 years old”, he had a 29% chance of dying before the 2021 inauguration. If you count it as 85, the number rises to 35%. If you interpolate between those two probabilities, you get (duh) a number between 29% and 35%. So I would not have bet money on his death.
The probability of one or more Justices’ dying, independently, between now and Inauguration Day 2021 was in the 85+% range. The expected number of Justices who’d die was around 1.7. I’ll have to re-run the numbers now with only 8 Justices.
You’re being much more careful than me. I just made extensive form game trees and explored the various possibilities. My results basically say that the next president will end up choosing the make up of the court. A Democratic president will have 6-3 court (alphabetical order) whether the Republicans block an Obama nominee or not. A Republican president will likely be able to finagle a 4-5 court if Obama makes an appointment but will get a 3-6 court if the Republicans had blocked a nomination.
Given this, the rational strategy on the part of the Democrats is to make nomination blocking as politically expensive for the Republicans as possible – presedential race wise. The presidency will control the court.
The rational strategy of the Republicans depends on their beliefs about the future and their ability to spin. If they think the next president will be a Democrat, then accepting a nomination can give them a narrow Obama 4-5 instead of a deep Sanders 3-6. On the other hand, rejecting a nomination gives them a shot at the whole republic – Presidency, Congress, Court and much of Local Governemnt. If they can spin nomination rejection as positive good, then that is their best option. But if they can’t, capitulating could give real gains.
At least, that was my results.