Saturday, February 13, 2016

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dies at Age 79

Justice Antonin Scalia, arguably the United States Supreme Court's most conservative Justice, was apparently found dead today in Texas:

Per NY Post:
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia was found dead Saturday on a luxury resort in West Texas, federal officials said.
Scalia, 79, was a guest at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a resort in the Big Bend region south of Marfa. said he died of apparent natural causes.
Scalia arrived at the ranch on Friday and attended a private party with about 40 people, the website of the San Antonio Express News said. When he did not appear for breakfast, a person associated with the ranch went to his room and found a body
Obviously, this has huge implications not only for the current make up of the Supreme Court (which until Scalia's death was a 5-4 conservative majority), but it also places the issue of appointing a Supreme Court Justice front and center in this 2016 Presidential election at a time when things were already beginning to heat up.

Before we address the impact of Scalia's death on the current Political climate, let us take a brief moment to look back at the man, Antonin Scalia.

Scalia was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1936 to Italian immigrant parents.  He attended the prestigious Xavier High School in New York City where he emerged as a brilliant scholar, and later went on to graduate with honors from Georgetown University and Harvard Law School where he earned a position on the Harvard Law Review.   After graduating from law school, he went to work for the Ohio office of the large and prestigious law firm Jones Day for several years before becoming a law professor at the University of Virginia.  A few years after he arrived in Virginia he was appointed by President Nixon to the Office of Telecommunications Policy, which placed him in the spot light of fellow conservatives who respected his intellectual firepower.  Nixon soon appointed him as Assistant Attorney General of the President's Office of Legal Counsel where he helped to defend the Nixon Administration during the infamous Watergate scandal.  Scalia leveraged his political connections from the Nixon administration to catch President Reagan's attention, and Reagan appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 1982.   He held that seat for four years until Reagan appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1986.  On September 17, 1986, Scalia, confirmed by the Senate 98-0, became the first Italian-American Justice of the Supreme Court.

Upon being appointed to the Supreme Court, Scalia earned a reputation as the intellectual powerhouse for conservatives.  His opinions often dismantled any liberal opposition with ease.  Towards the latter part of his career, however, Scalia's opinions began to border on conservative rants more appropriate for talk radio than for the Supreme Court.  We have written about him several times here, here, here and here.

As far as what this means for today's political climate, President Obama, in theory, will have the right to appoint another Justice to take his place.  However, any proposed Justice must be confirmed by the Senate, which is currently majority Republican.  This makes getting any Obama pick an uphill battle.  If Obama is able to get a confirmation through the Senate, that will significantly change the ideological make up of the Supreme Court from 5 conservatives, 4 liberals, to 5 liberals, 4 conservatives.  It is also a strong possibility that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 82) would likely take this opportunity to also retire, giving Obama yet another opportunity to place another progressive voice on the bench.

To date, Obama has placed two Supreme Court Justices on the bench, and both have been women: (1) Sonia Sotomayor; and (2) Elena Kagan.  He will have the opportunity to place a third (and possibly fouth) Justice on the bench, which is historic for any President (the record being 11 Justices by President George Washington, and second place going to President FDR with 9 appointments).

Whether Obama is able to appoint Scalia's replacement or not, the appointment of the next Supreme Court Justice is guaranteed to rise to the forefront of the 2016 Presidential Election. Look for both sides to use this issue to their advantage on the campaign trail in order to motivate people to vote.

Your thoughts?

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