Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died on Saturday, February 13th at the age of 79.
Best known for, “his commitment to the doctrine of originalism, which sought to interpret the Constitution as it was understood at the time of its adoption,” he was widely admired and respected across party lines. Nominated by President Reagan in 1986, “though his conservative views were well known, he was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 98 to 0.”
Much could be (and has been) said about the life of this man; announcing his death, Adam Liptak of the New York Times wrote, “Judge Richard A. Posner wrote in The New Republic in 2011, “the most influential justice of the last quarter century.””
However, many are already turning look forward, as Justice Scalia’s unexpected death leaves a vacancy on the Supreme Court which President Obama quickly vowed to fill. The opposition spoke just as quickly, as “Senate Republicans called on him to let the next president fill the seat.”
“It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic minority leader. “Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential constitutional responsibilities.”
The repercussions of this nomination could be massive.
Supreme Court justices serve well beyond the term of the president who selects them, and if President Obama were to choose Scalia’s replacement, he would be the first president since Reagan to fill three seats.
As we know, the composition of the Supreme Court impacts all of us who call the U.S. home.
Just in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, saw three environmental regulation cases, ruled in Reed v. Town that a town ordinance attempting to restrict political and ideological signage violated the First Amendment, and protected religious freedom in prisons in Holt v. Hobbs.
This is only a small selection of the year’s significant rulings.
So why does it matter?
The Supreme Court will continue to rule on the biggest cases in the United States in the year and years to come. Whoever takes Justice Scalia’s seat could impact the balance of the Court—and thus legal decisions that reach all of us.
The Supreme Court has long directed the social and legal evolution of the U.S., and will surely continue to do so.
I’ll be following events closely as they unfold.
Author: Toby Israel
Image: Stephen Masker/Flickr