In the span of a single night, the hopeful campaign atmosphere in Washington became decidedly more complicated as news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death spread throughout the nation.
A member of the Supreme Court since President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the high court in 1986, Scalia was found dead of natural causes during his stay at a hunting resort in West Texas on Feb. 13. With little extenuating circumstance to blame, his death was ruled one of natural causes, although no autopsy was performed.
Having served as Supreme Court justice for nearly 30 years, Scalia’s legacy was marked by his intellectual brilliance, quick wit and warmth commonly exuded in the form of jokes, both on and off the bench. At the time of his death, Scalia was the longest standing member of the Supreme Court.
Amid questions of conspiracy, controversy and shifty law enforcement behavior, the death of Scalia raises constitutional issues and the stakes in the presidential election.
The first question is: What is going to happen next? Scalia’s death occurs in the midst of a tumultuous political environment where an impending election only heightens the already tense atmosphere.
Surely, the appointment will have to be made soon, but the question is, who will replace him and when? With President Obama’s term coming to an end, it seems that it will be up to him to nominate a candidate who will pass both his and the Senate’s ideological litmus test.
Jennifer Walsh, Ph.D., dean of the the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of political science at APU, thinks that President Obama’s appointment will come in the next few months, although the likelihood of it passing through the Senate remains questionable.
“President Obama will most certainly make an appointment within the next few months,” Walsh said. “[But] because the Constitution requires the president to seek the ‘advice and consent’ of the Senate for judicial appointments, he will need to appoint someone who is considered acceptable to Senate Republicans.”
The slim window in which this appointment needs to happen raises questions for the impending election as well, where potential candidates are already making promises according to their party lines.
Walsh noted that Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, have already made claims in conjunction with appointing a new justice, promising to select a Republican candidate and assuring American citizens how important it is to elect a president able to keep the ideological balance of the Supreme Court.
“[After Scalia’s death], Republican candidates were quick to highlight the importance of having a Republican in the White House in order to appoint more judges like Scalia,” Walsh said. “[Both] Cruz and Rubio have pledged to supporters their intent to appoint candidates who [will] adhere to a conservative or ‘originalist’ view of the Constitution.”
Whatever the outcome might be, it is important to consider the implications and questions left in the wake of Scalia’s untimely death. While it is easy to turn a blind eye to politics, particularly with the large amount of rhetoric being tossed around by 2016 presidential candidates, it seems that now, more than ever, is the time to engage in the political process.
Scalia’s death undoubtedly puts pressure both on President Obama and the current presidential candidates, and as November approaches, it is to the advantage of American citizens to stay tuned in.
Aryana Petrosky, junior political science major and chair of Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honors society on campus, believes that keeping abreast of political news is one of the most important things citizens can do, particularly in an election year.
“I am certainly curious to see how it will affect the election, since it will surely be on each candidate’s mind,” Petrosky said. “Justice Scalia’s death has added another dimension to an already bizarre election year. It will be important to remain skeptical and attuned to what will take place in the coming months.”
There is certainly enough occurring in and out of the political sphere to allow for Americans to remain plugged into Washington, in some way or another, especially during the California primary in June and the general election in November.
Even while stating the importance of remaining plugged in, Douglas Hume, J.D., assistant professor of political science and prelaw advisor at APU, reminded students of the importance of voting and making their voices public.
“I think it is important to be aware and informed regarding political issues,” Hume said. “At a minimum, everyone should register to vote and then cast an informed vote in every election. If they feel strongly about what the president and/or the Senate should do, they should contact their senator and let their voice be heard.”
While November might seem distant enough to forget about, the nation is already gearing up for what may be one of the most tumultuous presidential elections in recent history. In the midst of the turmoil and the chaos, American citizens should stay attuned to the activity in Washington, from the mourning for Justice Scalia to the general political atmosphere in upcoming months.