Scalia Leaves Giant Robes to Fill

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There’s really no way to overstate the impact Justice Antonin Scalia had on the Supreme Court, and thus the nation as a whole, in his 30 years on the bench. With his unexpected passing on Saturday, America lost a great patriot and a brilliant constitutionalist as well as a prominent voice for conservative Christianity. Scalia was not only a merciless (and hilarious) critic of his liberal colleagues, he was an astounding writer; substance aside, his colorful opinions should be required reading for anyone contemplating a life in law.

Unfortunately, Scalia’s legacy will likely not get the attention it deserves. Owing to the unique opportunity his death affords President Obama, Republicans and Democrats immediately began fighting over his replacement. Obama has made two Supreme Court nominations in his tenure, but this is the first time he’s had the chance to turn a conservative seat liberal. In an election year that has already proven to be one of the most explosive in recent history, Scalia’s vacant seat could become the top topic of the campaign.

At the Republican debate Saturday night, the candidates urged Obama not to put forth a nominee. Donald Trump, John Kasich, and Ben Carson acknowledged that the president had the right and the motivation to pick a replacement, but they argued that he should hold off. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio conceded the same, but said that no lame duck president had ever exercised that right.

“And it reminds us of this, how important this election is,” said Rubio. “Someone on this stage will get to choose the balance of the Supreme Court, and it will begin by filling this vacancy that’s there now. And we need to put people on the bench that understand that the Constitution is not a living and breathing document. It is to be interpreted as originally meant.”

Mitch McConnell, majority leader of the Senate that would have to confirm any Obama appointee, agreed with the candidates. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” he said in a statement. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

It would appear, though, that Obama is determined. He released his own statement, vowing “to nominate a successor in due time.”

A delay could be dangerous, actually. Republicans are in danger of losing their Senate majority in November, and Hillary Clinton could very well turn out to be the next president. If the seat isn’t filled by then, Clinton could have a much easier path to nominate a liberal Justice than would Obama. If Republicans pressure Obama into making the choice, they would at least have the numbers to block an overly-political selection. It’s a significant gamble either way, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Should Scalia be replaced by a liberal (or even a moderate), it would dramatically change the balance of power on the court. With landmark decisions still to be made on subjects like Obama’s amnesty plan, affirmative action, and abortion rights, a left-leaning court could have a disastrous effect on the future of the country.

“God has been very good to us,” Scalia once said. “One of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done him honor.”

Hopefully, we can do him – and Him – proud by filling his robes with someone worthy.