Senior Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead Saturday morning at the age of 79. He had been the longest, current serving justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Born on March 11, 1936 in Trenton, New Jersey, Scalia was found to have died in his sleep of natural causes while on a hunting trip at the Cibolo Creek Ranch near Marfa, Texas. Antonin Scalia was survived by his wife, Maureen, nine children and twenty-eight grandchildren. Known as an ′Originalist′, Justice Scalia was a leader of the SCOTUS Conservative faction. He was a man of great intellect, humor and wit. Well liked by his peers, many are surprised to learn that his closest friend on the bench was probably Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They and their spouses often vacationed and attended operas together, as well as celebrating every New Year. Scalia was also very friendly with Justice Elana Kagan whom shared Scalia′s fondness for target practice and hunting. There is no doubt that Justice Antonin Scalia will be sorely missed!
Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in August of 1986 and was confirmed by the US Senate the next month by a vote of 98-0. He filled the vacancy opened when Chief Justice Warren Burger retired. Reagan selected Justice William Rehnquist to be the new Chief Justice, so Scalia took Rehnquist′s former chair. Rehnquist′s promotion had been somewhat contentious, but was confirmed by a 65-33 vote. So the Democrats gave Scalia a quick pass, which they later came to regret.
Justice Scalia was an ′Originalist′, meaning that he interpreted the US Constitution very much by late 18th Century standards. On other laws and statutes, he was known as a ′Textualist′, basing his decisions on the precise language of the written law. The ′words-have-meaning′ argument. Unlike many Liberal-Progressive ′Activist′ judges, Scalia argued in favor of original intent and against the whims of popular trends. He was a deft questioner of those lawyers whom argued cases before him, grilling them thoroughly to reach the core of their positions. This earned him great respect by many, including his opponents. Even when he would chastise them in writing a dissenting opinion for the minority on a particular case.
Filling the shoes of this legal giant will not be easy. Already, battle lines are being drawn. Republicans are calling for rejecting any appointment by Barack Obama and to keep the seat open until after the election. An 8-seat Supreme Court means that any 4-4 decisions would be a draw, deferring to the lower court′s decision. A ′lame duck′ president has not made a Supreme Court appointment in an election year for some 80s years. In 1988, Anthony Kennedy was confirmed early in an election year, but had been nominated by Reagan in late 1987. Some are already concerned that Obama may make a ′Recess Appointment′ if the GOP-controlled Senate attempts to shoot down his appointees. The last justice appointed in this fashion was Justice Potter Stewart in 1959 by President Eisenhower, who made three SCOTUS recess appointments. Of the other two, Earl Warren and William Brennan, Eisenhower later regretted putting Warren on the bench, saying it was, ″the biggest damn fool mistake I ever made.″
So there is no doubt that the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia will have serious implications. There are a number of very important decisions pending to the Supreme Court. Some of these cases, perhaps all of them, will have to be argued again. Cases on abortion, ObamaCare, affirmative action, and other crucial subjects were all expected to be resolved by this coming June. With this being an election year, and the highly divisive nature in Washington these days, one wonders if anything can get accomplished this year? Will the Senate and the White House reach an accommodation? Or will partisanship turn ugly, forcing Obama to sneak a recess appointment in? If Obama does go the recess route, such an appointment will only last two years at best until the Senate must confirm or remove. Given the ages and health of the current justices, the next president will probably be making another two or three appointments as it is.