Supreme Court Justice Scalia dies

Scalia served on the bench from 1986-2016.

Scalia served on the bench from 1986-2016.

Nick Manessis | Contributor

This past Saturday morning, Antonin Scalia, one of the nine Federal Supreme Court Justices, died at the age of 79. He was found dead in a hunting resort in west Texas, where he had been on a vacation hunting trip with some friends. According to those with him, he was feeling sick the night before, and so went to bed early. He didn’t show up to breakfast the next morning, and was later found dead by the hunting resort’s owner, who was concerned that he had not showed up for the early meal.

Justice Scalia was born in New York to an Italian immigrant father, and a first generation Italian-American mother. He attended Georgetown University, where he was not only the valedictorian, but also a debate champion. After college, he started working at a law firm, but after six years left to teach at the University of Virginia. Four years later, he began his career in the public sector, working a number of positions, including being appointed the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel by Richard Nixon. He then returned to being a professor for five more years, until he was appointed as a Federal Circuit Judge in Washington D.C in 1982. In 1986, he was nominated by Ronald Reagan to be a Supreme Court Justice, and was confirmed by the Senate by a unanimous 98-0 vote.

As a Supreme Court Justice, Scalia made was known for his strict fundamentalist interpretation of the constitution, and was considered by many as the judge on the Supreme Court that represented Conservatives, the religious, and those in favor of small-government. He was also known for his strong personality, and even stronger beliefs. In the Supreme Court’s most notable of recent rulings, which ruled in favor of gay marriage by determining that any laws that undermined the rights of gay couples to freely marry were unconstitutional, Scalia wrote the dissent, which denounced the majority ruling and claimed it was a “threat to American democracy.”

Other notable dissents include his voting against the legality of Obamacare twice, voting against deeming unconstitutional an anti-sodomy law passed in Texas in 2003, and voting against the banning of clergy members holding prayer and performing duties in a public school. Scalia often argued on the behalf of the rights of the states to make laws their citizens want, and fought to ensure limitations on the Federal government outlined in the Constitution were followed.

In the eyes of Conservatives, he will very likely be championed as a defender of the Constitution and of limiting the reach and power of the federal government. On the flip side, in the eyes of many liberals, he likely will be seen as a barrier to equal rights and a stubborn man with outdated ideals.

The death of Justice Scalia has already made an impact on the current political climate. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were the first of multiple Republican presidential candidates to stress the importance of the new president in selecting the next justice, while Democrats and the White House have announced they plan to have the position filled before Obama leaves office. It will be very interesting to see whether Obama will nominate a justice and whether it is successfully  confirmed by a simple majority in the Senate, which is needed to place a justice on the Supreme Court, as Republicans currently hold a strong 54-44-2 majority over Democrat and Independent representatives.

It would be fairly unprecedented if there was a vacancy in the highest court in the country for almost a year, but as it is an election year and politics have heated up, it is plausible that the Republican Senate delays the appointing of a new justice. To further complicate things, Scalia was one of four justices to be considered conservative, while there are four liberal justices and one swing voter in Justice Anthony Kennedy. If Obama were to appoint a new justice, he is likely to select one who is liberal, which will tilt the power of the courts decidedly in favor of more progressive rulings.