There is no denying that the untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia has upset the Supreme Court. Does Justice Scalia’s death have further implications? Here, Timothy Singhel, an attorney with numerous years of experience and a federal court clerkship background, discusses some of the many ways that Justice Scalia’s passing may alter the process and outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election.
Q: Who is Antonin Scalia?
Timothy Singhel: Justice Antonin Scalia, who died unexpectedly on a hunting trip in February 2016, was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1986. He has been a leader of the conservative Justices on the Court. He is known for championing a limited role for federal governmental authority and an original intent view of the Constitution. Somel of the legal issues that have led to controversial decisions are again before the Court this term, such as abortion and privacy rights, affirmative action, labor relations, and voting rights.
Q: When was the last time a Supreme Court opening coincided with the conclusion of a Democratic presidency?
Timothy Singhel: It was 1968, under President Lyndon B. Johnson, when Chief Justice Earl Warren retired.
Q: How does the newly opened seat affect Ted Cruz’s campaign?
Timothy Singhel: Senator Cruz is a current sitting member of the Senate Judiciary committee. As such, the appointment process provides him with a big platform in the news to lay out his agenda on key domestic policy issues. Whether that is a positive or a negative remains to be seen.
Q: Will this allow President Obama to leave Democrats with more power than the Republican Party would like?
Timothy Singhel: Justice Scalia’s death leaves open a vacant seat in the most powerful court in the United States; a court currently controlled by Justices appointed by Republican Presidents. As President, Obama has the constitutional authority and obligation to appoint a Justice to take Scalia’s place.
Q: What happens if the seat is not filled and there is a 4-4 tie when the Court votes on a decision?
Timothy Singhel: A 4-4 tie would mean that the decision of the lower court is upheld, but no legal precedent is created. Many times, the Supreme Court takes a case in order to resolve a split among the lower courts, so a tie would not resolve anything.
Q: If successful, would this new appointment shift the Court to the Democratic side?
Timothy Singhel: Yes, but unless the Republicans do an about-face and become more open to an appointment before the election, it is unlikely that President Obama’s chosen candidate will ever make it past the Senate’s confirmation hearings.
Q: Does President Obama have a strong relationship with lawmakers?
Timothy Singhel: Not really, and certainly not enough to afford him any goodwill or favors where appointing a new Supreme Court justice is concerned. His influence has been severely strained by numerous partisan struggles with the Republicans, who control both houses of Congress.
Q: If President Obama is permitted to seat a replacement, how many picks will that give him?
Timothy Singhel: Three, the most since President Reagan. However, two other Justices are nearing retirement age before President Obama’s term is up, meaning he could have five total appointments.
Q: Is that the most of any president?
Timothy Singhel: No, Franklin D Roosevelt had eight Supreme Court picks during his four terms in office.
Q: If President Obama is permitted to choose Justice Scalia’s successor, how could that change future Supreme Court rulings?
Timothy Singhel: Prior to Justice Scalia’s passing, the court had a reliable balance between conservative and liberal votes. Justice Anthony Kennedy has historically been the ever-crucial swing vote. An Obama-chosen successor could give progressive Justices a majority of 5-3 regardless of how Justice Kennedy votes.
Q: Should Republicans tread lightly to avoid looking like obstructionists?
Timothy Singhel: Yes, if they want to circumvent an even bigger battle this November. The Republicans in Congress are already portrayed as being overly partisan and obstinately hostile to President Obama’s agenda and initiatives. Fighting the President’s appointment and leaving a Supreme Court seat vacant for almost a year could send Democrats, Independents and even some Republicans flocking to the polls in defiance, tipping the balance against the Republicans in crucial battleground states.
Q: Do you think President Obama’s pick would be too conservative for Democratic frontrunner Bernie Sanders?
Timothy Singhel: Possibly, since Senator Sanders is known for his liberal, “democratic socialist” ideals. President Obama’s appointment will likely be moderate in order to try and force the Republicans to consider the nomination in the Senate.
Q: How can Hillary Clinton used the Senate Judiciary hearings to her advantage?
Timothy Singhel: Theoretically, it offers Clinton the opportunity to connect with young voters on issues such as privacy, women’s rights, climate change, and immigration.
Q: How will Scalia’s death affect voter turnout?
Timothy Singhel: As we have seen with the increased turnout in recent Presidential primary elections, as things heat up, it’s likely that more and more Americans will ensure they get out to vote. 2016 may be a record-breaking year for long lines at the polls.
Q: Was the Supreme Court a hot button issue prior to Scalia’s passing?
Timothy Singhel: Not really. Certain legal issues always resonate with some voters, but the composition of the Court itself was not high on most people’s lists.