The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia adds to the political turmoil of the US. Is this a fitting irony, destined for an impasse, or is there a way forward?
With the sudden passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in the middle of a presidential election year, an already vicious political climate has been churned into a complete battle royal. Within hours of the news of his death, Senate Republicans vowed to block any nominations from President Obama, and not allow a new Justice to be seated until after a new President had been elected. Their hope, of course, being that the next POTUS is a Republican.
Antonin Scalia, the father of nine and grandfather of 28, was the most socially conservative member of the current court. His opinions on hot issues such as abortion and gay marriage made him one of the most reviled members of the high court to many Americans. While at the same time a champion to conservatives and the religious right. His death sent shockwaves through the political world, not only because of its unexpectedness but because of the major ramifications tied to it.
Before his body was cold the battle began on the who and when of his replacement. That in itself is a grim reminder of how out of control and gridlocked our system of government has become. Civility and common decency have been replaced by positioning and grandstanding. Politics aside, the man has a family and friends who cared for and loved him yet immediately his death became a symbol of the right vs left problem in this country. The us versus them mentality that has permeated every corner of government, and is reaching further every day into our daily lives. The unwillingness to compromise on even the slightest issue is at the heart of nearly every modern American problem.
On the other hand, perhaps it is fitting that Justice Scalia’s unfortunate passing ignited a firestorm of this magnitude. His opinions were almost always controversial in some way. His stance on gay marriage alone has made his death almost a time for celebration for many. In his denial of basic human rights to so many people who simply want to be recognized as legitimate couples, he helped establish himself as someone who embraced controversy. So that his death has sparked a fight is only fitting.
However, for a man who dedicated his life to law and the constitution, you have to wonder how he really would feel about all this. The system is supposed to work a certain way, a way in which it has worked for over two hundred years. When there is an opening on the Supreme Court, the sitting President nominates the replacement and the Senate confirms or denies the nominee. In this case, though, we have a Senate majority leader saying that he will not allow President Obama to choose a new Justice. This seems to fly in the face of almost everything Scalia dedicated his life too. His death and an open seat, are basically being used as a weapon in an election year. They are being used to impose powers that do not constitutionally exist. The Senate has no authority to stop a President from picking a qualified replacement, simply because they don’t want him to.
The truth is this, if President Obama nominates a qualified individual to fill the seat of Justice Scalia, then the Senate has a duty to vet, question, debate and vote up or down based solely on that candidate and their findings of him or her. A no vote shouldn’t be cast because of who nominated them, or what party supports them. That is not in any way how our system of government was set up to operate. Republicans how are so quick to cry for constitutional procedure and the rule of law should damn well follow it themselves.
Without a replacement, the Supreme Court has eight members which could put every decision for well over a year in jeopardy of being undecided due to a numerical tie. Add that to the fact that we have other Justices who are reaching the end of their tenures, the chances that we lose another member before President Obama leaves office are not out of the question. So would the GOP be ok with having a 7, or 6 member court?
Then what happens if a democrat is elected as president? Do they continue their tantrum for another 4 to 8 years? Do we completely shut down one wing of the government because we don’t like the results of an election? Because that’s basically what they are saying, they didn’t like the results from 2012 so they aren’t going to allow Obama to carry out one of his most important duties for the final year of his presidency.
The sad fact is that most likely they will be able to do exactly that. They have the majority and they have the leadership in place that would actually follow through with this plan. The question is will the American voters hold them accountable for it? What they need to be reminded of is this isn’t only a presidential election year, but it’s also a midterm election for the Senate. It’s time the American people stand up to both parties and say enough is enough. We cannot continue to allow this dysfunction without holding our elected officials responsible!
Scalia will be remembered for many of his opinions and certainly for some of the outrageous statements he has made. What we can’t allow is for his death to be used to completely dismantle American system of government. Certainly the man himself wouldn’t have wanted that. Then again to think about it, maybe he would. Controversy isn’t something he was afraid of or steered clear of, it followed him just about wherever he went.
Even to the grave.