Associate Justice of The United States Supreme Court Antonin Scalia died on Saturday at the age of 79 of an apparent heart attack at a retreat ranch in Texas. Appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan in 1986, Scalia became the first Italian-American to serve on the court while also being its bedrock conservative for nearly 30 years.
Justice Scalia’s death has shaken up the political landscape. This being an election year and Obama’s last in office, Republicans from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to Presidential Nominees Ted Cruz and Ben Carson have called for either President Obama to not nominate a replacement for Scalia or for the Republican controlled Senate to block any nominee he sends to them.
The President, on the other hand, has promised to nominate whomever he pleases, saying that “I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time. There will be plenty of time for me to do so, and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote.”
Article 2 Section 2 of The Constitution says The President Shall nominate judges to the Supreme Court with the advice and consent of the Senate.
For over the past decade the Supreme Court has held a conservative ideological majority of 5-4 over a liberal minority. Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, and Kennedy are considered the conservative block while Ginsberg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor the liberals.
With the passing of Scalia, however, that conservative majority has been thrown up in the air, and how it comes down may all depend on who is elected to be the next President. For now the ideologues are tied 4-4 between conservatives and liberals, meaning that any tie results in the nullification of the Supreme Court hearing and the reversion of the previous lower court decision.
This is a big deal as this is the busiest season for the Supreme Court with many high profile cases currently in the circuit that could have wide implications for hot button topics such as abortion, The 2nd Amendment, Obama’s recent executive actions on illegal immigration reform, and the status of teachers’ unions.
Nearly all remaining Republican Presidential candidates argue that it should be the responsibility of the next President to appoint a replacement for Scalia, citing Obama as a “lame duck President.” Only Jeb Bush says Obama has the right to appoint a nominee, but recommends that the Senate reject any nominee he sends given his past record of appointments, namely the liberal Justices Kagan and Sotomayor.
Democrats on the other hand, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are encouraging The President to send forth a nominee of his choosing, as it is his constitutional right to do so. Some names rumored to be on Obama’s short list include D.C. Circuit Judges Sri Srinivasan and Patricia Millett and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich pointed out that this year’s presidential election has the opportunity to also become a referendum for which way the Supreme Court should go ideologically, commenting that “It’s unique to say that the public itself is going to have sort of an indirect vote on who’s going to be a Supreme Court Justice.”
If Obama’s nominee is blocked, which it most likely will be, then this year’s election becomes a much bigger deal as not only are The White House and Congress on the line, but the Supreme Court as well.
Justice Scalia’s death unfortunately turned political before his body even began to cool. He was not given a chance to be properly appreciated and mourned before all the shouting and political smearing began. Scalia will be remembered as one of this nation’s greatest intellect of the last century and among its most influential Supreme Court Justices. Though often mocked for his crazy thought processes and sometimes too-far right beliefs, he was considered the closest of friends by all eight other SCOTUS justices, conservatives and liberals alike.