With the presidential race reduced to a bitter contest between unpopular candidates, it would be dangerous to overlook other consequences of next month’s election.

They include the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court, which began its fall term this week. The court has been shorthanded since Justice Antonin Scalia died in February. Unfortunately and most unnecessarily, with four liberal justices and four conservatives, the court is seen by some observers as being “crippled” by the lack of a majority view.

In fact, the court has declined to tackle some of the more controversial cases before it because a 4-4 split seems inevitable and thus a waste of time, energy and money.

Cases involving voters rights, the death penalty and separation of church and state should go undeliberated because sulking Senate Republicans refuse to fill the vacancy.

There is a suitable candidate for the vacancy. Federal Judge Merrick Garland is President Obama’s commendable choice. But the Republican majority in the Senate, including Judiciary Committee Chairman and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, has flatly refused to consider Garland.

They wrongly have refused to hold a hearing to interview him about his judicial philosophy, much less hold an up-or-down vote on the appointment. So Garland and the court are trapped in a political limbo of the Republicans’ making.

Contrary to the Constitution’s clear and time-honored instructions, Senate Republicans wrongly insist the court appointment is the prerogative of the next president and not the one now in office until January. It’s not what the Constitution says. But Republicans love of the Constitution’s narrow, “original intent” hypocritically extends only to the point where they don’t get their way.

Their shameful delaying tactic, of course, is predicated on the arrogant assumption a Republican with conservative credentials will be in the White House after the November election. Consequently, it would mean the previous 5-4 conservative majority will be reinstated. But their plan was hatched before Donald Trump became the party’s nominee. So if Hillary Clinton wins, she will be free to nominate a more liberal justice, thus forcing the Republicans to paint themselves into an even darker corner of their own making should they refuse to vote.

The way around this ugly standoff, of course, is for Americans to change the majority in the Senate, and while they’re at it, in the House as well.

To do neither would seem to assure neither Congress nor the Supreme Court will move the country forward.

— The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa