WHY IS THIS SUCH A BIG DEAL? You may be asking–particularly if you’ve been paying any attention to the news recently. And to be honest, I’ve been asking this question, too. For those who don’t know and also CARE ABOUT AMERICA (jk), read this.
Soo… let’s start from the beginning. The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest federal court in the country. It has ultimate jurisdiction over every other court and is the final interpreter of federal constitutional law. The Court usually consists of the U.S. Chief Justice and 8 other justices who are all nominated by the President and approved by the Senate. Normally, the justices are often classified as liberal, conservative, or moderate approaches toward interpreting the law.
Antonin Scalia was a conservative Associate Justice in the Supreme Court and was known for being a great one. After his death on February 13, however, an unexpected political problem arose regarding who would take his place. Scalia’s presence was one of the most forceful conservative voices on the Supreme Court in the past 30 years, and when President Obama announced that he would fulfill his constitutional duty to nominate a replacement, many Republican leaders made clear that a justice should only be confirmed after the next president takes office. One member of the conservative majority Senate, Mitch McConnel, confirmed in a statement, “This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.” As the debate surrounding what should happen intensified, many presidential candidates chimed in.
In the recent New Hampshire forum, Hillary Clinton said, “We have to preserve marriage equality. We have to go further to end discrimination against the LGBT community, we’ve got to make sure to preserve Roe v. Wade (abortion rights), not let it be nibbled away or repealed. It’s one of the many reasons why we can’t turn the White House over to Republicans.”
In a recent interview, Cruz chimed in, “We are one liberal justice away from a five-justice liberal majority, the likes of which this country has never seen,” later warning voters that if we get this election wrong, our “constitutional rights will be lost forever.”
Both sides agree, however, that whoever gets the seat will strongly shape the decisions of the Court in the future. So, now, with the Senate highly unlikely to confirm any candidate Obama nominates this year, what happens?
Well since the Court is made up of 8 justices rather than 9, there may be an equal split in opinion when it comes to voting–in which case, the lower court that was being appealed can make the decision. But in general, there are a wide range of decisions that the Supreme Court could make if they end up in that situation.
Let’s just hope that in the end, whoever takes Scalia’s place is just as awesome, respected, and good at doing what they do.