By Virginia Villa
More drama occurred in the American political arena this weekend when the passing of United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was announced on Saturday afternoon. Scalia’s death came as a shock to Americans, caused by an apparent heart attack while he was in Texas on a hunting trip. Deaths of Supreme Court justices currently in office do not occur frequently, and when they do, the eyes and ears of the American people and politicians turn to the president. Under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the president is obligated to nominate judges to the Supreme Court when there is a vacancy. Because Supreme Court justices serve life terms, the opportunity to nominate one is significant for a sitting president, because it allows him or her to leave an influence that extends far beyond the time spent in the White House. Because this obligation has the potential to create or destroy power in either party, it is a subject of great controversy and debate when the time comes for the president to nominate. Throughout American history, the nomination of Supreme Court justices have received a wide amount of attention from the public, from the coining of the term “court packing” during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency to President Obama’s appointment of the country’s first Hispanic-American justice, Sonia Sotomayor. Still, the death of Justice Scalia seems to be far more controversial than anything the American people have seen with deaths of prior justices. The timing of his death comes during an election year and the polarizing conservatism of Justice Scalia, who vehemently opposed gay marriage and abortion rights, make the coming interactions between the executive and legislative branches all the more significant.
Scalia’s death has come during one of the most dramatic and unpredictable election years in the history of American politics. Beyond that, he was one of the most conservative members of the Court, so the chance for Obama to appoint a more liberal justice could dramatically alter the fate of current Supreme Court cases. This includes the possible overturning of Citizens United v. FEC, wherein the Supreme Court held that corporations may be considered as individuals, so their spending for political activities cannot be limited under the First Amendment.
Election years are always rife with chaos, but this year is exceptional. The election is nearly eight months away, and the Democratic Party has already begun putting enormous pressure on President Obama to nominate someone as soon as possible. The reason for this urgency is because the Senate must approve whomever President Obama nominates by a two-thirds majority vote, this is an important legal principle called “advice and-consent.” The problem for the President and the Democratic Party now is that Republican senators have already begun vowing to block anyone Obama nominates. If right-wing senators refuse to vote in favor of Obama’s nominee, the nomination and appointment may get delayed until someone else is in the Oval Office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already called for the nomination to be delayed until the next president assumes office, but that is almost a year from now, and many liberal critics are calling this push for a delay irresponsible. Hillary Clinton even stated that delaying the nomination would be a dishonor to the Constitution.
Either way, Americans will be watching closely as this process unfolds. Already, names are being floated for potential nominees; chief among them is Sri Srinivasan, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit, who was confirmed for this position in a vote of 97-0 by the Senate in 2013 and has argued more than 25 cases before the Supreme Court. Still, no one can say for certain who the President will nominate or if the Senate will confirm, but the potential for delays only makes this election that much more tumultuous.