Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead on Saturday Feb. 13 at the age of 79. Justice Scalia served an astonishing 29 years in the highest court after his appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. His death has caused chaos in the media, as the next Supreme Court Justice appointment will either lie in President Barack Obama’s hands or those of his successor.
Scalia was the longest sitting Supreme Court Justice among those currently serving. He was known for his strong conservative and originalist views. The principle of originalism is a form of judicial interpretation that allows an individual to make decisions based on the exact intent of those who drafted and ratified the Constitution. This theory resonates with conservatives due to its tendency to preserve long-lasting ideologies—unlike their Democratic counterparts, which have more progressive views relevant to modern society.
The Obama administration and presidential candidates recently began to argue over who would appoint the new Supreme Court Justice. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, insisted that the next—still unknown—administration make the appointment, thus avoiding an Obama-appointed candidate and assuming the next president would be Republican.
The news of Scalia’s death occurred right before the Republican debate in South Carolina. To no one’s surprise, the candidates were asked their opinion on whether or not Obama should follow through with the appointment.
On ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday Feb. 14, Sen. Ted Cruz said, “I don’t think the American people want a court that will strip our religious liberties.” The implication of “religious liberty” most likely refers to the Court’s ruling on same sex-marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). Cruz is only worried about the next appointee because it could create a liberal majority in the Court with only four conservative justices.
Regardless of politicians’ biased views on the topic, leaving a vacant spot in the Court for nine months is unreasonable. Obama should unquestionably submit a nominee to the Senate. The Republican-majority Senate, however, is surely going to reject any nominees as liberal as Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The only way Sotomayor got the nomination in 2009 was due to the Democratic majority in the Senate. Therefore, in the upcoming months Obama would have to play a tricky game of Senatorial courtesy in order to squeeze in another nominee.
The appointment of a Supreme Court justice is more influential than most Americans realize. Through the appointment of a justice, a president can maintain his or her ideological beliefs in the political system for as long as the justice remains on the bench. In the case of Scalia, Reagan’s influence on the country lasted over 29 years.
Perhaps Obama’s optimal option for a nominee would be Sri Srinivasan, who sits in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Judge Srinivasan was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals by a vote of 97-0 in 2013, making him a likeable candidate for the nomination. If nominated, Srinivasan would become the first Indian-American to hold the title of Supreme Court Justice. In numerous ways it would seem appropriate to appoint him, as it would continue the legacy of “firsts” in Scalia’s memory.