March 1, 2016
By Maggie Angel
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on Feb. 13 at the age of 79. The conservative justice served on the bench since 1986, after being appointed by President Ronald Reagan. He was the longest serving judge on the court with a strong legacy of loyalty to the Constitution, especially in regards to the sixth amendment guaranteeing the right to a fair trial.
His humor and intellect helped him gain the friendship and respect of several people such as the notorious liberal, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and comedian Stephen Colbert. However, his impressive work did not come without controversy. Scalia’s opinions have been criticized. Some examples include his reluctance with Brown vs. Board of Education, the case ending segregation in schools, and his dissent on Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage across the country.
Some faculty members from the Law Center at Georgetown University, Scalia’s alma mater, have spoken and refused to mourn the justice’s death stating that Scalia was “a defender of privilege, oppression and bigotry” and criticizing conservatives by adding, “in effect, your hero was a stupid bigot and we are not sad that he is dead.”
In response, Georgetown’s Black Law Students Association tried to bridge the gap between conservative students who felt offended by those faculty members’ remarks, but also stated that policies regarding discrimination affect all people differently.
Scalia’s passing is marred even more by controversy and ideological division. The now vacant seat on the highest court has turned into a political game piece during this presidential election season. Article Two of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that the president “by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court…”
President Obama has expressed his full intention to nominate the next justice of the Supreme Court, even though he has less than a year left in office. However, President Obama is being threated by a partisanship in the Republican controlled Senate.
On Feb. 23, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) stated, “This nomination will be determined by whoever wins the presidency in the polls. I agree with the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation that we not have hearings. In short, there will not be action taken.”
This political ploy by Senate Republicans is an obstruction to democracy in the United States. They are hoping that a Republican wins the White House this November, thus hoping to turn the evenly divided court into a majority conservative court. The presidential nominees have politicized it even more by taking sides on whether or not the Senate should confirm Obama’s nominee, stating that there is no precedent for nominating a justice during an election year while, which is a lie.
The New York Times reports that “since 1900, the Senate has voted on eight Supreme Court nominees during an election year. Six were confirmed.”
The other weak argument used is that there is not enough time to go through the confirmation process while Obama is in office. However, the New York Times adds, “The Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a successor from the time of nomination; on average, a nominee has been confirmed, rejected or withdrawn within 25 days. When Justice Antonin Scalia died, 342 days remained in President Obama’s term.”
Each day that this fighting continues is another day that there is a vacant seat on one of the most influential branches of our government. Several cases such as abortion rights and affirmative action are expected to reach the court and those cases will continue to be heard, regardless of whether or not the bench is full. There is a precedent of cases being heard with a vacancy and, in the case of a tie, the decision of the lower court is upheld. I have stated before that this election has a lot at stake, especially in terms of the Supreme Court, which essentially decides the course of the nation for the next generation. With Justice Scalia’s sudden passing, the stakes are even higher and Senate Republicans are recklessly gambling with the future of the United States.