By Melissa Ruby,
Domestic News Writer
Justice Antonin Scalia, a crown conservative jewel on the Supreme Court, was found dead Saturday morning, February 13, 2016 at the Cibolo Creek Ranch in Texas when he did not show for breakfast that morning. Scalia, 79, was determined to have died of natural causes.
Scalia went to the Texas resort, comprised of some 30,000 acres, in order to do some quail hunting over the long weekend. Friday night, around 9 p.m. he excused himself from dinner and company, and retired to his room where the next morning he was found unresponsive in his room. John Poindexter, the owner of Cibolo, told the media that Scalia was found with a pillow over his head.
That, combined with the difficulty of finding someone to pronounce death, the pronouncement of death being done via telephone, and the decision not to do an autopsy, spurred conspiracy theorists who insisted that Scalia was murdered. Donald Trump gave momentum to this idea while on air with talk show host Michael Savage, stating, “They say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.” Poindexter came out again to clarify his original statement., saying, “I think enough disclosures were made and what I said precisely was accurate. He had a pillow over his head, not over his face as some have been saying.”
While some have been hoping to press the issue further, the clarifying comments from John Poindexter and reassurances from local authorities that the procedure followed was within bounds of Texas law have stemmed the wave of conspiracy. Though many theories still persist, the fact is that Scalia was 79 years of age, at such an advanced age it is neither implausible nor improbable that Scalia died of natural causes.
This does not mean that the loss is any less great. The passing of such a monumental figure in US jurisprudence has reverberations across party lines. Scalia was a vibrant presence on the court for nearly three decades.
Appointed in 1986 by President Ronald Regan and confirmed 98-0, he spent his career writing blunt, scathing, divisive opinions concerning the cases that came before the bench.
Scalia was known for being a staunch originalist, meaning that he perceived that the Constitution has some fixed meaning. This meaning cannot be changed simply because the court doesn’t like what it says. He was whole-heartedly against the theory of “Living Constitutionalism” jurisprudence and once said “It is difficult to maintain the illusion that we are interpreting the Constitution, rather than inventing one.” Rather, he believed that the Constitution was living in democracy. He had strong majoritarian principles and believed that if someone wanted change, then they ought to convince their fellow citizens that change was a good idea.
Scalia’s principled nature made him a great asset to the conservative movement and especially to propagating “public meaning originalism.” Losing his voice on the court, even if his most fiery opinion was in the dissent, is a loss to conservatives.
Being that he was a solid conservative vote in the court’s many 5-4 decisions, the potential balance of the court could be hugely affected. This includes cases that have already gone before the court this session as decisions are not final until handed down.
Future cases will also be affected by the new Supreme Court Justice appointee. The battle currently raging is concerning who will take Scalia’s place. This battle is not just one of typical proportions where typical party lines emerge, this potential nomination has sent the parties into an uproar, and how this battle ends has potential ramifications for this election season.
Republicans of the Senate have united behind majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who stated that the republicans, who hold a majority in the Senate, intend to block any nomination Obama brings. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.” (Reuters) The sentiment is that as this is an election year the people by voting would be expressing their views on who should replace Scalia. Republican presidential candidates have also expressed their views that the next president should have the honor of nominating. Per CNN, Ted Cruz expressed that “nominating someone now wouldn’t ‘be fair to the nominee.’” His opinion suggests that the nominee would suffer, because they would not get a fair shot and would not be considered on the basis of their qualifications, but on the content of their politics.
Democrats are not happy about this turn of events, though they are happy that they will get to turn the tide of the court. Hillary Clinton wrote, “I have news for Republicans who would put politics over the Constitution: Refusing to do your duty isn’t righteous, it’s disgraceful.” Sandra Day O’Connor, a former Supreme Court justice and former colleague of Antonin Scalia, also spoke out regarding her disappointment with this. CNN quotes her statement, “I don’t agree (with Republicans). We need somebody in there to do the job and just get on with it.” If someone is not nominated before the next president is elected, a year would go by before there would be a justice.
Obama, however, is not backing down, it is his intention to nominate the next Justice as is his right and his duty. Among the potential list of candidates is Sri Srinivasan, a 48-year old moderate who has gained bipartisan support and currently sits on the DC circuit. He was born in India and raised in Kansas. Paul Watford is a 48-year old African American who was confirmed to the 9th Circuit in 2012 and he has a history of working across party lines as he clerked for both Conservative judge Alex Kozinski in the 9th Circuit and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Jaqueline Nguyen also serves on the 9th circuit court and received a unanimous confirmation. She would also help fill the diversity bill as she was born in Vietnam and moved to the US as a refugee in 1975. Merrick Garland, Jane Kelly, David Barron, and Loretta Lynch are also on the shortlist.
Many of the choices would serve to fill some diversity contingent, which may also serve to the benefit of the Democrats in the election. Should the Republicans make good on their threat they could be seen as being hostile to immigrants, an image from which they already suffer.
Though the battle continues, Antonin Scalia was laid to rest last weekend. Holding with traditions, his chair at the Supreme Court was draped in black in his honor and flags were flown at half-mast at President Obama’s request until Scalia was buried.
Scalia will be missed by liberals (including good friend and colleague, Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and conservatives alike.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 23rd print edition.
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