The announcement of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing on Saturday afternoon went across the media as a shocking reminder of how the “black swan” can appear at any time to disrupt the status quo. The sad news prior to the upcoming South Carolina primary debate of six candidates added a new dimension to the discussion.
President Obama made a statement from his location at Rancho Mirage, Ca. where is spending time over the week-end. He called Scalia as someone who profoundly shaped the legal landscape and was a towering legal figure. President Obama made worthy note of Scalia’s status as “son of an Italian immigrant family”.
Obama stated emphatically that the constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor to the court was “bigger than anyone party”. The president was brief but strong in his message of the duty he would undertake to fulfill Scalia’s position.
Scalia, the longest serving member of the court, was appointed by President Reagan in 1986 and provided the current standing of five-justice conservative majority. Now, Obama could change the landscape of the court and affect American life from changes in voting procedures, federal power, and climate change and immigration policy.
The first hurdle is for Obama to get his nominee past the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has quickly weighed in the Republicans won’t allow a vote on anyone the president nominates. The odds-makers are listing confirmation of a new justice as less than zero.
The six Republican candidates began the debate this evening in Greenville, South Carolina expressing the loss of Scalia and his great commitment as a judge. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio stated he wanted the President to “choose someone with unanimous approval”. Dr. Ben Carson addressed the issue of the Constitution doesn’t address any time limit on delay to nominate, and he stated changes for “life term” needed to be reviewed in the future.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Fla. called Scalia’s death a “tremendous loss” and a replacement is not a fad of the moment. Former Gov. Jed Bush called for someone with a “proven record” and “respectful of the Constitution” to pass the litmus test.
Candidate Donald Trump called for “delay” in the selection during this term until the next president is in office citing the potential blow to conservatism. Sen. Cruz of Texas expressed similar concern.
Cases before the Supreme Court cover issues of abortion, affirmative action and the president’s plan to offer semi-permanent residency to illegal immigrants. The impact from Scalia’s death may allow a slight window to escape defeat. “The liberals will avoid Waterloo and Stalingrad combined,” said William Eskridge, a professor of constitutional law at Yale Law School. “If you avoid Waterloo, that’s a clear victory.”
Scalia considered the landmark case of Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, declaring rights that the founding fathers never intended.
Who may be considered? Some potential nominees include Sri Srinivasan, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. in 2012, at which time it was noted he was a Supreme Court Justice in waiting.
There are two of his colleagues on that court, Judges Patricia Millett and Chief Judge Merrick Garland, who at 63 could be a moderate, compromise choice. Obama is fond of California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, but he would have a tough time getting confirmed.
Former President George W. Bush called Scalia a “towering figure and important judge,” while Secretary Hillary Clinton stated the news was “a jolt”. Former President Bill Clinton despite their disagreements, fondly remembered Scalia as a man of honesty and integrity.
Scalia was scheduled to teach in Paris this summer for the San Diego-based Thomas Jefferson School of Law. He leaves his wife, Maureen, nine children and several grandchildren.