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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

2016 presidential race shaped by court cases

Funny how this race to lead the executive branch keeps wending through the judicial branch.

First there’s the Supreme Court. Its potential vacancies and appointments become an issue in every presidential election, but the stakes were raised dramatically with Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death in February. The court lost its conservative majority, rendering the next pick by the next president more crucial than most.

So Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump use the current standoff on a replacement for Scalia to warn their parties’ voters that they stand to lose more than the White House if their opponent wins.

One of the court’s decisions six years ago has everything to do with the currrent election. The 5-4 Citizens United case smashed federal curbs on political spending in candidate contests, giving rise to the fat funding of super PACs.

After losing the New Hampshire primary, Clinton cited the case in an effort to show that she’s firmly for campaign finance reform.

“Citizens United, one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in our country’s history, was actually a case about a right-wing attack on me and my campaign,” involving as it did the funding of a critical film about her, she said then.

Litigation in lower courts also has shaped the campaigns.

Trump as a businessman has been embroiled in a large number of court cases of various kinds that he initiated or defended.

He was sued by hundreds of tradesmen and others who said the billionaire businessman stiffed them on payments for services, USA Today reported.

At one point he got in a court fight with his own former lawyers.

His most recent controversy stemmed from lawsuits against his companies over the defunct Trump University and its allegedly broken promises to show students how to succeed in the real estate business.

The GOP candidate’s hammering away at the Mexican-American ethnicity of a U.S. District Court judge in one such case prompted the question of how he’d handle federal courts as president. For unexplained reasons, Trump’s lawyers have not even asked for Judge Gonzalo Curiel to be disqualified.

Ethnicity aside, Vice President Joe Biden, who’s supporting Clinton, said: “A presidential candidate who publicly attacks a sitting federal judge who ruled in a way that was against his own economic interests cannot be trusted to respect the independence of the judiciary as president.”

Some of Clinton’s woes, too, have also grown out of facts, documents and statements resulting from court action by her detractors.

Most recently, that same Citizens United group got hold of dozens of internal State Department emails under the Freedom of Information Act — after two years of litigation against the federal government.

According to ABC News, they show how a Clinton Foundation donor, Rajiv K. Fernando, ended up for a time on a government intelligence advisory board although he had no relevant experience, baffling some of the department’s staff.

A lawsuit by the group Judicial Watch also has turned up details of interest in the continuing blowup over the private email server in her Westchester County home.

No matter who wins the White House, certain lawyers will have plenty of work — as usual. The question is how they will be deployed.

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