Justice Antonin Scalia, the most conservative and the most outspoken of the Supreme Court justices died in his sleep today. His sudden and unexpected death will have the effect of a massive earthquake on the 2016 election campaign. Justice Scalia was the judge most admired and loved – by the conservatives and the one most feared if not hated by the liberals of our highly polarized American society.
He died at a time the country is bitterly divided and crucial cases dealing with abortion rights, immigration, President Obama’s executive decisions and his healthcare reforms were under trial or about to go under trial. The Supreme Court which was leaning to the right by a 5-4 margin is now evenly divided. Liberals who were worried that Justice Ruth Ginsberg, the liberal justice and a friend of Scalia, was thinking of retiring in 2017, can now take a sigh of relief. They can even start preparing victory celebrations.
President Obama is expected as is mandated by the constitution to nominate a judge for the Supreme Court and send it to the Senate for confirmation. Chandigadh born Indian American, Judge Sri Srinivasan of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is expected by most legal scholars to be President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. The Republicans who control the Senate have already announced that they do not want him to do so and have promised to block his nomination. There are 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats in the Senate. Even if the Democrats succeed in maneuvering and getting the nomination up for a vote in the Senate, it would be impossible for them to avoid a filibuster by the Republicans as they cannot not get the required 60 votes to do so.
Scalia’s death has, therefore, brought the control of the Supreme Court into the 2016 elections’ play to the same extent as the control of the White House and the Congress.
The death of the eloquent conservative Justice is a Godsend for the Democrats including even the atheists among them. Their nominees for the election did not have the sure path to the White House. Senator Bernie Sanders is a self avowed Socialist running for the presidency of a nation founded on Capitalism. In times of rising anti-establishment sentiment, Secretary Hillary Clinton is considered a symbol of Washington style politics and she is under increasing fire for breaking the law and endangering national security by having classified information on her private servers.
Democrats were expected to win the Senate back from the Republicans as the latter had 24 Senators up for reelection as compared to just 10 Democrats. Many of the Republicans up for reelection were running in Democrat–leaning states. Unless there was a landslide win for the Republican presidential candidate providing his coattails to the Senate candidates, Republicans were expected to suffer a net loss and perhaps even the majority.
The death of Justice Scalia has further dimmed the chances of a Republican win. With the debate on the nomination for the Supreme Court so central in the November elections, independents, especially women voters supporting abortion rights, will rally around the Democratic nominee. The actions of the Senate Republican leadership to delay the vote on the confirmation of the Supreme Court Justice will further enrage the independents who are sick of the partisan politics. Immigrant groups, seeing this as an opportunity to have a Justice who will not overturn the Executive Decision of President Obama on immigration will be energized.
In an indirect way, the effect of Justice Scalia’s death on the Republican Party’s nomination campaign for the Presidential candidate will end up helping the Democrats. Panicked by the death of their eloquent standard bearer, the conservatives will rally in the party’s primaries and this will help a candidate like Senator Cruz. This will further divide the party as Cruz is almost unanimously hated by the party’s establishment. Cruz or Trump as the Republican nominee, in this political backdrop, might even cause the Republicans to lose their majority in the House of Representatives and not just the Senate
Republicans cannot delay the nomination process for ever and they might not even be in the position of power after January 2017 to do so. President Obama might not get his nominee for the Supreme Court confirmed before the end of his term but by pushing for confirmation, he can help his Party win the White House, the Senate and the House; and thus, eventually, the Supreme Court nominee as well.
Justice Scalia loved quoting Shakespeare. What an irony that through his untimely death, the champion of conservatism has caused his ideology a decisive and long-term if not permanent defeat! This defeat though, coming at the times of a tectonic demographic shift in the US, can not be called untimely.
XXXXXXDr. Shaik Ubaid is a political commentator, community organizer and a practicing neurologist. He is active in the inter-faith arena and recently presented a panel discussion at the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City on “Sharing the lessons from the intrAfaith struggles against extremism”, where leaders of major religions shared their communities’ struggle against extremism.