On Feb. 13, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away at the age of seventy-nine. He is survived by his wife, Maureen Scalia, and nine children. He had served on the Supreme Court since 1986 after being appointed by former president Ronald Reagan. He was known for being conservative and upholding the idea of originalism, that the Constitution should be interpreted based on what it meant to its original founders. Scalia’s death has raised many questions about who will take his place as a new justice.
Justices in the Supreme Court are appointed by the president but must also gain approval from the Senate. Nominees chosen by the president usually have a hearing in the Senate where senators evaluate them to determine if they would make a suitable justice or not. At any other time, president Barack Obama would choose a new justice to be sent to the Senate for a hearing, but political tensions are high right now with the presidential election coming up in November. There is dissent in the Senate on whether the new justice should be appointed by Obama or the upcoming president.
Over the years, both parties have typically allowed the current president to appoint a new justice in cases like this. Even so, many Republicans hope to hold off the appointment until the new president comes in. This is because Obama is a Democrat and would appoint a more liberal justice, tilting the balance in the Supreme Court. They hope that the new president may be Republican to give their party an advantage. Meanwhile, Democratic senators hope to let Obama choose the new justice. They argue that it will be a year until the new president comes into office. A year may be too long to keep an empty seat in the Supreme Court.
Republicans claiming that they will refuse any replacement are being accused of undermining the system of checks and balances. They may be overstepping their bounds in refusing Obama his right to choose a new justice, a right upheld by the Constitution. Additionally, some Republicans risk losing their seats at re-election this year if they refuse to confirm a replacement. Republicans currently hold a majority in the Senate, but Scalia’s death evens it with four conservative and four liberal justices. People feeling as if the obstruction was unjust may support other candidates instead.
There is no way to tell who will end up choosing Scalia’s replacement in the Supreme Court. In a poll, forty-seven percent of Americans said Obama should pick the new justice while forty-six percent say the next president should. With opinions almost evenly split, people will be upset with whichever decision is made. The final decision lies within the Senate, though. Only time will tell if senators decide to allow Obama to choose the next justice or not. Regardless, Scalia will be missed by those who knew him both professionally and personally.