Justice Antonin Scalia who sat on the Supreme court has died at age 79 early on Saturday morning. Scalia had a reputation as one of the most conservative members of the supreme court and was appointed to his position on the Court by Ronald Raegan in 1986. President Obama has called him “an extraordinary judicial thinker” with “instinctive wit”.
However, Scalia’s passing has created huge problems for Obama, the Republican candidates, the Democratic candidates and even the US Constitution. For those of you who don’t know how the supreme court works, it is made up of nine Justices who when a case or law is brought to their attention, they cannot seek out laws, have the job to decide whether or not the law is constitutional or breaks constitutional law, in which case a constitutional amendment would be required for it to pass the court. A new member of the supreme court must be nominated by the sitting US President and then the nominated candidate must pass confirmation through the senate. While being confirmed the candidate will be questioned and vetted by members of the senate before a vote will be held as to determine the confirmation of the nominee or not. Once elected a Justice of the Court it is a life appointment to which a Justice must either resign his post or die to leave the role.
Now before we get into the constitutional crisis, lets establish why the appointment of a Justice to the Supreme Court so important. Well as I have mentioned before the appointment is a life long role which, to put it bluntly, is a way for a President to guarantee himself a constitutional legacy. By putting a Judge on the bench the President can dictate the leaning of the Supreme court. Up until the death of Justice Scalia the bench had a conservative leaning with a 5-4 majority. However, President Obama has the chance to nominate a liberal Judge which would sway the court into a Liberal majority. This is important as these nine judges have the ultimate say on laws such as Same-Sex marriage, Gun Control and even the legalization of Marijuana.
Now for the slightly more complicated part, the constitutional crisis. I’m sure, or rather I hope, most of you are aware that the Presidential election is this year, which leads to the thought that Obama no longer truly represents the American people as he is about to leave office. This is where the Republicans argument is coming from, and the constitutional crisis. The Republicans feel as if any nomination to the Supreme Court should be delayed until after the election, so the new president, with renewed authority and citizen backing, can make the nomination.
This argument does make a lot of sense, however it is President Obama’s constitutional right and duty, to nominate a new Justice. An argument which Obama has made himself in a statement in which he declared he planned “to fulfill my [Obama] constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor”. Of course if Obama does nominate a new Justice he will attempt to sway the balance of the court, which would outrage Republicans who want the court to remain under aa conservative majority.
The problem Obama will find if he does nominate a liberal Justice is that the Senate in which his nomination would have to be confirmed by is under a Republican Majority. A Republican majority in which many senators, who will be voting of the nomination, are midway through their own election and desperate to appeal the the conservative base of their party.