Antonin Scalia died on Saturday in Texas at a luxury hotel ranch. He was one of the most powerful men in the United States, among those who make — and above all, unmake — the laws, all while claiming to merely be interpreting the text.
He was among those who decided, for example, the fate of Barack Obama’s health care reforms. Among those who could even decide a presidential election, as in 2000, when victory was handed to George W. Bush while the votes in Florida were still being recounted and Al Gore was holding onto the hope of winning.
Situated at the far right of a nine-member Supreme Court, this man considered the U.S. Constitution as an absolute monument, a “dead,” [sic] intangible thing in which resides eternal truth. This fundamentalist philosophy is called “originalism.”
This man with a polemical mind, always ready for a good fight, sometimes found himself siding with the majority of the court on crucial issues, such as the right to bear arms. But when he lost, he would write that “a system of government that makes the people subordinate to a committee of nine non-elected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.” Such criticism was usually issued when the court came out 5-4 or 6-3 on a significant social issue that didn’t go his way. This occurred often enough as Scalia took extreme positions.
From the right to abortion and gay marriage to the right to bear arms (untouchable) to the use of the death penalty in cases involving the mentally disabled or minors (permissible), this man was vehemently opposed — and showed marked disdain for the opposing side — to all that he thought resembled the progressivism of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, which he viewed as an abomination that had to be reversed at all costs.
In his furious dissents, written whenever he found himself in the minority, this man was capable of finding a basis in the U.S. Constitution for things like states’ anti-sodomy laws or even for cases in which he lashed out against a judgment obligating police officers to read prisoners their rights.
Scalia’s death has immediately raised the question of who will be his successor. The appointment of Supreme Court justices is the president’s prerogative. But the nomination must also be approved by the Senate.
Here’s the catch: In this election year marked by record levels of extremism and demagoguery, Republicans — including the main candidates for the presidential nomination — announced over the weekend that they would block any nomination proposed by Barack Obama.
The Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not hide his intentions. “This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” he said. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, champion of the religious right, stated, “We will not abandon the Supreme Court for an entire generation by letting Barack Obama appoint another leftist judge.”*
These bellicose statements bring up some harsh realities.
First, as for the U.S. Supreme Court, its composition, its ideological tendencies, and its decisions, it is a political body and has become the ultimate decision center for large reforms, so much so that it is called the “government of judges.” This was something that Scalia criticized even while he practiced it!
For example, it is remarkable that in June 2012, it took the unexpected reversal of Justice John Roberts, a noted conservative, on the question of the obligation of enrolling in Obama’s health care law (and on the fines assessed for not complying with this obligation) for the president to finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief and see his flagship reform confirmed.
That day, an unelected court — worse, one man — and only one, since we knew in advance where the eight other judges were ideologically situated — held in his hands the fate of health insurance in the United States! This is an exorbitant political power, one exercised by a man who knew that he was delivering a political judgment.
So, who will be named to replace the illustrious departed extremist? A liberal, but will that person be immediately shot down by enraged senators?
Here is the promise of a beautiful rat race, in a year that is already full of them.
*Editor’s note: This quote, although accurately translated, could not be independently verified.
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