Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death Saturday should serve as a clear signal to everyone how the Republicans in Congress feel about President Barack Obama.
They have spent nearly eight years harshly criticizing Obama for overreaching on his constitutional authority, including but not limited to the Affordable Care Act, immigration and climate control. But then on a very clear constitutional mandate such as filling a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, Republicans tell the president “hold the phone!”
Let the next elected president make that pick. Obama is right to tell the GOP, “I don’t think so.”
Filling vacancies on the Supreme Court is one of the most important aspects of being president. It establishes the direction of the country for decades and cements in a president’s legacy beyond his eight years in office.
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Scalia, 79, was found dead Saturday at a West Texas resort.
Scalia appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 has had a great effect on maintaining the conservative stand of the country for more than 30 years. Many of the 5-4 Supreme Court decisions have been because of Scalia’s hand in the rulings.
That has included the 5-4 June 2012 decision on striking down the core of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, letting nine states, mainly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal OK. Another 5-4 ruling in which Scalia joined with the majority was in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which determined that political spending was protected as a free speech right.
It resulted in a flood of campaign contributions in political races. For good reasons, conservatives are not wanting to surrender that seat on the Supreme Court to an Obama appointee.
Regardless of who the president nominates, he or she will be seen as a liberal, and the Republican-controlled Senate is expected to fight the appointment.
Obama in 2009 nominated Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latina to the Supreme Court, and the Senate in August 2009 confirmed the appointment, replacing David Souter, who retired. In 2010 Obama nominated Elena Kagan to replace John Paul Stevens, who was retiring. Her appointment was confirmed by the Senate that summer.
The appointment to replace Scalia could create what conservatives would view as a liberal majority on the high court, affecting many recurring decisions from civil and voting rights, to abortion and women’s rights, health care, and immigration reform.
President Dwight Eisenhower of Kansas appointed five members of the Supreme Court, including Earl Warren, appointed in October 1953 as a recess appointment while the Senate was in recess. Warren, governor of California, had a profound and long lasting effect on the United States as chief justice — most notably because of the landmark Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education decision, overturning segregation in schools and as the law of the land.
Obama has said he would go through the normal nominating procedure to replace Scalia and not resort to a recess appointment as Eisenhower did. However, Obama has had difficulty throughout his years in office getting the Senate to confirm his lower court picks. It would surprise no one if the president to fill the seat had to resort to a recess appointment.
Republican candidates for president wasted no time taking issue with Obama selecting someone to replace Scalia. They want the next president of the United States to make that selection.
However, they assume that the next president will be a Republican. That is wishful thinking thus far in the race for the White House.