Saturday, February 13, 2016

Shock Waves

At the risk of overstating the impact of just one person's death, let's just say this particular passing will have a ripple effect across all three branches of government and our political landscape.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the intellectual cornerstone of the court’s modern conservative wing, whose elegant and acidic opinions inspired a movement of legal thinkers and ignited liberal critics, died Feb. 13 on a ranch near Marfa, Tex. He was 79.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

In a statement Saturday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts said: “On behalf of the Court and retired Justices, I am saddened to report that our colleague Justice Antonin Scalia has passed away. He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues. His passing is a great loss to the Court and the country he so loyally served. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Maureen and his family.”

Given that so many Supreme Court decisions are decided by 5-4 margins, the vacancy left by Scalia's passing already has battle lines being drawn. Since Barack Obama will still occupy the Oval Office for the next 11 months, it is his prerogative to put forth a nominee to replace Scalia. Given his track record of submitting lefty justices like Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, it's pretty much a forgone conclusion he'd prefer to nominate a legal mind of their same ilk. But this time Obama doesn't have the luxury of a Democrat controlled Senate to rubber stamp such nominees. Yes, for all the scathing criticism heaped upon Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the GOP majority in their first year in charge, they have ample opportunity here to cover a multitude of sins. So if McConnell's initial statement on Scalia's passing is any indication, the Senate Republicans may yet be redeemable.

Now whether this means McConnell and Co. will simply block nominees or actually go through the confirmation hearing process and then vote down said nominees is anybody's guess. There's part of me that believes that this is McConnell's attempt to force Obama to put up a relatively moderate choice more in the motif of Anthony Kennedy as opposed to a Sotomayor or Kagan. But given the 7-year track record of the White House's current occupant, he seems to believe he's a ruler as opposed to head of an executive branch of government subjected to checks and balances. As such, I don't see Obama cooperating  with McConnell and the Senate GOP majority.

There's some speculation that McConnell's actions (should he stand firm) would threaten the GOP majority in the Senate come November 2016, particularly Republicans seeking reelection in blue/purplish states (i.e. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, etc.). So even if a Republican were elected President, he would likely be unable to get his nominee of choice past a Dem majority in the U.S. Senate. However, I feel this particular battle is a hill worth dying on. For all the idiotic shrieks of there being no difference between Democrats and Republicans in today's Congress, the judiciary is one area where the contrasts are stark.

Hold firm, Mr. McConnell.


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