The passing of Justice Antonin Scalia has turned this entire election cycle onto its head. While many would argue that this was a pivotal election to begin with in regards to the political frustration our nation is currently experiencing (along with the voters desire to elect someone outside of the establishment), the death of Scalia not only increases this election’s significance, but changes what could be the most important thing about it as well.
What Each Party Wants
The Democratic Party views Scalia’s death as an opportunity to take control of the Supreme Court. Scalia’s death means the Republicans no longer have a 5-4 favor in cases the court hears. The Democrats are looking for President Obama to nominate someone (preferably a liberal) soon in order to lock in control of the Courts for the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, the Republican Party wants Obama to wait and leave the decision in the hands of the next president. They do not like the idea that a president in his final year has the ability to make a decision that could last for the next generation. While Obama has the ability to nominate someone, his decision has to be confirmed by the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. Many are expecting them to block anybody Obama nominates.
This decision to block could backfire. Obama has come out and said he will look to nominate a moderate. If the Senate is successful in pushing this decision all the way to the next president, it does not necessarily guarantee they will get what they want. This could essentially be a gamble. If a Democrat is elected (Sanders or Clinton), they may not share Obama’s opinion of electing a moderate justice and could subsequently look to nominate a liberal. At that point, there will be nothing the Republicans can really do. Essentially, the only way for the Republicans to find success in this fight is to hope a member of the party is elected in November.
The election, up to this point anyway, has been odd to say the least. With voters looking past the traditional boundaries of political parties and favoring outliers like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, this election was already on course to be of strong significance. However, the death of Scalia exponentially increased it. Supreme Court judges serve lifelong terms, meaning any judge nominated could have a major impact on our nation for the next few decades, and they could be the swing vote to break the current 4-4 tie.
If the Senate can block Obama for the next 10 and a half months, then whoever is elected president will have a huge decision on their first day, a decision that could be one of the defining characteristics of their administration. This decision alone goes far beyond this year’s presidency race. It could be a decision still in affect 30 years from now, especially considering the decisions the Supreme Court will be voting on in the upcoming future, such as immigration, voting rights and regulations to help combat climate change. These are very crucial cases, and it is unlikely the Court will go back and re-rule on decisions after the fact (this isn’t something they are not known for doing).
Many are saying that this issue has become the most important of the election. On top of electing someone president now, we as Americans have to contend with who that president could potentially put on the Court. The importance of elections are typically overstated: every election is going to change the course of the next 50 years. But this election could be the first in a while to live up to the hyperbole.
The handling of Scalia’s death has been as disheartening as it has been productive. While it is necessary to try and immediately figure out who will occupy the vacant seat, a decision that holds major impact in our government has simply become another decision to be made with the assistance of partisan voting. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Perhaps all of the analysis will be for nothing and Obama will come to terms with the Senate. But with the way we have polarized this issue, it brings a new meaning to the phrase, “It’s all politics.”
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