|On Saturday, February 13th we learned of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Although he was no friend of the progressive community, we offer
condolences to the Scalia family.
Four of the
nine sitting Supreme Court Justices are over the age of 75. Antonin
Scalia was 79 at the time of his passing. The remaining septagenarians
and octagenarian are Justices Breyer (77), Kennedy (79), and the
Notorius RBG – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 82. The loss of one
or more justices over the next few years is inevitable and should be on
the radar of any and everyone who has the right to vote. The death of
Scalia highlights the importance of the upcoming 2016 presidential
Now, as President Obama has yet another chance to fill
a Supreme Court vacancy, we’ll see one of the most consequential
decisions a president can make. We’ll also see one of the primary
reasons a party wants control of the U.S. Senate. With Republicans in
control, in a presidential election year no less, does an Obama
appointment have a chance? Will we see judicial gridlock? Will there be
a Constitutional struggle? Will the battle that is likely to ensue lead
the public to engage in greater civic participation or at least
increase their interest in the political process?
I certainly hope so because the stakes are so high. It’s too early to
answer any of these questions, but let’s take a look at what has
Since it’s inception, there have been 112 United States Supreme
Court Justices. Fifty of these justices, including Justice Scalia, have
died in office. Since 1789, there have only been two ways justices have
left the bench – 55% have left through their own volition, either
resigning or retiring, and 45% have died in office. Although the U.S.
Constitution allows for the removal of a judge via the impeachment
process, the nation has yet to use this option. So, with an almost
lifetime guarantee, being appointed and confirmed as a justice to the
U.S. Supreme Court is arguably a more powerful position than that of
the president of the United States.
Court cases have shaped and changed the nation in ways that the
executive and legislative branches either don’t have the power or the
will to do. In recent times, our nation has been rocked by Supreme
Court decisions in cases like:
- Shelby County v. Holder,
a decision that essentially gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and
opened the door for many states, most in the South, to implement voter
- Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which made it easier for deep pocketed individuals and corporations both domestic and abroad to buy elections.
- Bush v. Gore,
the case that resolved the dispute surrounding the 2000 presidential
election which resulted in George W. Bush being ushered into the White
House – paving the way for the Chief Justice Roberts and Associate
Justice Samuel Alito appointments ergo Citizens United and Shelby.
In addition to Scalia’s seat, the next president might easily appoint
three other new justices to the Court, given the advanced ages of the
current justices. Given that 45% of Supreme Court Justices die in
office, pressing the presidential candidates for who they might appoint
if elected should be standard fare. With the passing of Scalia, we will
no doubt continue to hear much more from the candidates on this issue.