BY ADAM LUCENTE
It seems that people began contemplating the Supreme Court’s future as soon as the late justice Antonin Scalia shut his eyes for the last time on a Texas ranch. In their Sunday morning edition, just a day after his death, The Washington Post’s headline read “Supreme Court conservative dismayed liberals,” appearing to gloss over his death and go straight to the upcoming political squabbles it is sure to create.
With his seat now vacant, Democrats and Republicans in Washington are arguing over whether President Obama will-and should-nominate a successor before his term ends in January 2017, and whether the senate will confirm him or her. Reports indicate that Obama will name a nominee before he leaves office. “The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now,” he said at a press conference.
Article II, Section II, Clause II of the United States Constitution indeed grants the president the power to nominate justice to the court. The senate must approve such appointments, however. The text:
He [The President] shall have the Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate… Judges of the supreme Court…
In short, if Obama nominates someone, and two thirds (66) members of the senate vote yay, the nominee will be appointed. Republicans hold 54 seats and Democrats 45 in the 144th Congress.
Democrats and Republicans disagree on whether Obama should nominate someone this late in his presidency, with monumental elections around the corner. Reportedly an hour after Scalia’s death, senate majority leader Mitch McConnel (R-KY) said “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,” in a statement.
In response, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) snarked that the American people did have a say in the potential new justice “when President Obama won the 2012 election by five million votes,” on Facebook in a post heralded by many liberal readers. Regardless, the constitution clearly states both the president and the senate have a say in appointing Scalia’s replacement.
And both sides may be acting hypocritically. In a 2007 speech, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told his senate colleagues to block all future Bush appointees. On the other hand, McConnell and other senate Republicans voted to confirm a court nominee in Ronald Reagan’s final year. In other news, some detectives have questioned why an autopsy was not ordered for Scalia, a move which has spawned conspiracy theories.
Scalia, who served since being appointed to the court in 1986 by Reagan, died the night of February 12, or the morning of February 13 at Cibolo Creek Ranch in Texas. He was 79, and long known as a staunch conservative and constitutionalist. He championed the legal position of “constructionist,” meaning the original intent and words of the Constitution should be adhered to literally and not made to “evolve” with the times.
Perhaps Scalia’s most famous remark was, “The Constitution is not a living organism. It’s a legal document, and it says what it says and doesn’t say what it doesn’t say.”
After moving to Queens at age 3, Scalia graduated from Xavier High School, a Jesuit military prep school in Manhattan. He was valedictorian of his class at Georgetown and then graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.