Death of Justice Scalia leaves gap in Supreme Court: Wilkes professor speaks on potential outcomes

Sarah Bedford, News Editor

On Feb. 13, 79-year-old Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia  passed away while on a weekend trip to a Texas ranch.

The passing of Scalia, who served as part of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, has now turned the bench to an even split.

Scalia was the longest serving member of the court and was also known as an outspoken conservative. His judicial philosophy was that of originalism, meaning he viewed and reviewed cases based upon the way in which the founding fathers created the Constitution.

His death has created controversy within the Senate as the decision to appoint a new Justice begins.

As a constitutional right, President Barack Obama has the legal authority to nominate a new Justice. However, Republicans in the Senate have already expressed discontent.

Dr. Kyle Kreider, associate professor and chair to the political science department, explained that it is within President Obama’s constitutional right to nominate a new justice.

“The President shall – not that he may .. he shall, with the advice and consent of the Senate, nominate (someone),” Kreider explained of the specific wording of the appointment. “I think it’s the president’s constitutional duty to nominate someone, but I don’t think it mandates that the senate must confirm (the nomination).”

The nomination and appointment process for Supreme Court justices has potential to be lengthy and it starting in Obama’s final year in office makes it nearly impossible.

Kreider explained that this was not always the case.

“You have to look at the modern period and the historical period,” Kreider said. “There is a cutoff line that appears to be the 1960s….With the introduction of TV and people having TVs in their homes… has increased the length of the confirmation because senators are now playing to the interest groups as a way to get money and get attention and play fame.. this is a high stakes political battle.”

As the 2016 presidential election gains momentum, the topic of debate among the candidates is the repercussion of the open seat.

Republican candidates such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ben Carson all expressed their concerns of President Obama appointing a new justice before the end of his term.

“The likelihood that President Obama would nominate someone close to Justice Scalia is not going to happen,” Kreider explained.

If Obama were to get his nomination approved, the results have the potential to restructure the Supreme Court.

“If Obama has the opportunity to get his nomination through then the court is clearly 5-4 on the side of liberals. It would mean a lot for rights of criminal defendants… governmental power, social issues like separation of church and state and womens issues, so it’s a hugely consequential appointment.”

Kreider explained that he felt Obama would make strategic moves in his nomination theorizing that, “he (Obama) nominates an African American like Loretta Lynch.. an African American woman who the Republicans are saying no… Republicans are denying a vote, or denying confirmation to a woman  who’s already been approved by the Senate to fill a constitutional position called the Attorney General,” Kreider explained. “It may tick off some African Americans which might increase voter turnout in the African American community.”

Kreider said that this is critical to the Democratic party especially if Hilary Clinton is to be the democratic nominee.

“Her support in the African American community is not as strong  as Obama’s. She might need that increase in African American turnout to elevate her to the presidency.”

While this has the potential to greatly impact the impending election, the overall influence it will have on American life also has importance.

“If you look at the last 40 or 50 years.. some may argue it (the Supreme Court) is the leader of social change,” Kreider said. “The courts role in American life is so profound… I would argue its the most powerful institution… it’s important to every American because its rulings affect every one of our lives in some way.”

Scalia was laid to rest on Feb. 20 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a national Catholic pilgrimage site in northeast Washington.