Scalia’s Death Leads To Political Intrigue

The sudden death of  Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, who died at 79 while hunting at his Texas ranch on Saturday, has thrown the presidential nominee race into a frenzy.

Justice Scalia was a Reagan appointee to the Supreme Court and was an abortion opponent and strict constitutionalist in his approach.

News of his death came from a statement from Chief Justice John Roberts:

“I am saddened to report that our colleague Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away,” he wrote. “He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues. His passing is a great loss to the Court and the country he so loyally served. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Maureen and his family.”

President Obama has said he would appoint a successor to Justice Scalia in a move that has sent the presidential nominees into overdrive.

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Talking during a golf vacation in California he made it  clear he wouldn’t leave Mr. Scalia’s vacancy for his successor to fill, as some Republicans have suggested.

The WSJ commented that by addressing the matter immediately, Mr. Obama underscored how fiercely he intends to mount a public campaign to pressure the Senate to confirm the third Supreme Court nominee of his presidency.

“I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time,” Mr. Obama said Saturday. “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.”

The president had previously paid tribute to Scalia  as “a brilliant legal mind” with “incisive wit” in an extensive statement from Rancho Mirage, California.

“Justice Scalia dedicated his life to the cornerstone of our democracy: the rule of law,” the president said. “I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time, and there will be plenty of time to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that individual a hearing and a timely vote.”

 

As Vanity Fair reported, Obama’s decision is likely to exacerbate partisan rancor within Congress. It also faces an uphill battle in a Republican-held Senate. Scalia was a reliable conservative on the court, where he, in often polemic opinions and dissents, openly criticized the more liberal justices as naive or dangerous. The justice’s death has already become a significant issue in an already unpredictable presidential election cycle.

The eight remaining justices on the court are considered split four-three-one. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagancomprise the liberal contingent; Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Roberts are conservatives; and Anthony Kennedy remains a swing vote.

Obama nominated Sotomayor and Kagan: adding a third nomination to his presidency would undoubtedly solidify his legacy and protect some of his landmark legislative achievements from conservative challenges, long after he leaves office.

There is precedent for a president to have a nominee confirmed in an election year, as the WSJ reported, quoting Ben LaBolt, a former Obama White House spokesman who worked on the confirmation hearings of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan.

Mr LaBolt said any effort by Senate Republicans to block Mr. Obama’s nominee to leave the vacancy for the next president would defy how the process has worked in the past.

Similarly threats to derail the process are not without precedent either.  David Greenberg, associate professor of history and journalism at Rutgers University, confirmed that fact to the WSJ and  pointed to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s election-year nomination of Associate Justice Abe Fortas to replace Chief Justice Earl Warren, which was filibustered and eventually withdrawn.

Whatever the case, the death of Scalia has thrown a spanner into the political process in a major manner.  His constitutional stance and role in the court has transcended the Court to become a central focus in the American political process in an already hotly contested, if occasionally bizarre pre-election campaign.

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