by Ryan Collins and William Eimas-Dietrich
Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, 79, was found dead of natural causes at a ranch in West Texas on Feb. 13. He attended a party the night before and was discovered in his room the next morning. With the loss of a Supreme Court Justice member, an unintended balance in the group is the result. The Supreme Court is down to eight justices from nine, which means there could be a tie in deciding critical decisions that are handed down. As a fairly conservative appointee, Scalia’s vote could have been a potentially deciding factor for current cases. The justices are now split with four conservative and four liberal members. Without his vote, the justices could be deadlocked and unable to form a majority decision, forcing them to maintain the status quo.
This unexpected tragedy alters the whole presidential race. Social studies teacher Andrew Cottet says Scalia’s death “significantly impacts the Presidential race” but “wonders if the average voter realizes” this.
With the sudden passing of Scalia, it has brought up the issue of whether current President Barack Obama will appoint his replacement or if it will be held off for the next president. “The issue doesn’t seem at the forefront of political discussion, but the fact that he was a conservative justice adds importance to conservative voters,” said social studies teacher Leo Brown. Obama said that he plans to fulfill his constitutional right to select a new Supreme Court Justice. This is seen as a problem for the Republicans because Obama would most likely want to appoint a liberal justice. The Republican controlled Senate will probably try to block any attempt by the president to elect his third nominee on the court. Social studies teacher Donna Oppedisano is upset at this issue; “using the Supreme Court as a bargaining chip in Government shows the serious problems this country has.”
There is no law preventing the president from selecting a Supreme Court Justice. President Obama has until Jan. 20, 2017 to make his decision. If Obama was to decide to fulfill the position himself, that would be perfectly legal even though tension between the Democratic and Republican parties would follow it.
The next president that takes office will have an elderly class of Supreme Court Justices. One of the factors that decides the long-term effect of a presidency is the number and political identity of Supreme Court justices the president will choose. The last time a Supreme Court justice died in office was in 2005 and before that, there wasn’t a death from 1955 up to 2005.