One of the best judicial opinion writers – agree or disagree with his decisions – the staunchly conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep Friday, Feb. 12, at age 79.
Scalia, a Georgetown University and Harvard Law School graduate, was appointed to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. Prior to sitting on the Court, Scalia was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Before becoming a judge, Scalia served on the faculty of several law schools, including the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago.
Scalia, a firm believer in what was called “original intent” and is now referred to as “originalism,” was cherished by conservatives for his opinions and by law school faculty and law students for the clarity and passion of his writing. The Justice believed in originalism as the best possible legal restrain on judicial power.
Scalia’s death has unleashed a torrent of responses – some nasty, some sad, but many focused on how it will affect the current presidential race.
The loss of the most articulate and reliable conservative voice on the Court – although his strong position on privacy often resulted in pro-criminal defendant opinions – has stoked fears of an imbalance on the Court, should President Barack Obama succeed in naming the next Justice to the Court.
But given that the president has left than a year left to his term, there are many who argue the next president should be the one to fill the seat.
In fact, the two senators who hold the most power over moving forward or blocking any name the President may put forward have both already come out with statements that the position should not be filled until after the next president enters office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that the, “American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
And Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee – before whom any Supreme Court nominee must appear – issued a statement that sought to undercut criticisms of those suggesting the next president should be the one to fill the vacancy. After praising Scalia’s intellect and orientation, Grassley reminded Americans that
The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year. Given the huge divide in the country, and the fact that this President, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda, it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court Justice.
Be advised: this already wild and atypical presidential season is about to become even more boisterous.Lori Lowenthal Marcus