By Victoria Venable
Elm Staff Writer
On Saturday, Feb. 13, Justice Antonin Scalia, whose legal leadership and notable personality flavored the Supreme Court with a conservative resurgence for three decades, was found dead at a resort in West Texas, at 79 years old.
Justice Scalia was known for his caustic dissents, ridden with vivid allusions and hyperbolic language. As one of the most well-known and influential Supreme Court justices, he was known for his idiosyncratic theology characteristic of originalism. Originalism is the constitutional interpretation that aims to preserve the intentions of the founders, referring to the original writers of the constitution and the writers of each amendment.
Justice Scalia’s interpretations often yielded conservative rulings, but not always. Justice Scalia was not afraid of making enemies, often criticizing Congress for writing vague laws that did not clearly outline what conduct was criminal. Scalia wrote lengthily dissents that took no prisoners, but his oral arguments were often ornamented with witty, sarcastic jokes.
JusticeScalia’s death comes at time when the Supreme Court faces some of the most controversial issues, such as abortion, affirmative action, the contraceptive mandate in the ACA as it applies to religious groups, and immigration. With his seat empty, the eight-member court could be split on all of those issues.
As a result, it does not come as a surprise that only hours after the news broke of Justice Scalia’s passing, politicians on both sides of the aisle were calling for action. In response to conservative outcry to delay the nomination and appointment of a new justices until after the election, President Barack Obama assured the public that he would not miss the opportunity to fill the seat with his chosen nominee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged the senate to delay confirming a nomination until after the election, while presidential candidates like Donald Trump agreed.
In retort, Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, insisted that leaving the seat vacant in the name of partisan politics was both unconstitutional and irresponsible. There was a loud reminder from the liberal side of the room that President Obama still had a year in office and therefore held every right make the nomination and the senate Republicans had taken an oath to uphold these constitutional rights.
The next few months will be crucial to the fate of the highest and most influential court in the nation. President Barack Obama, who was a constitutional law professor before entering the political arena, vowed on Tuesday to pick an “indisputably qualified” nominee for the Supreme Court and scolded Republicans who control the U.S. Senate for threatening to block him from filling the pivotal vacancy. Meanwhile, opponents remind us that Obama participated in such filibusters when he served in the senate.
While we wait for the impending nomination and a probable filibuster, we would be mistaken if we did not honor the service Justice Scalia gave to our country. In Washington, Scalia’s chair in the court’s ornate chamber was draped with black wool crepe in accordance with court tradition following a justice’s death.
It is a testament to Justice Scalia’s character that his biggest opponent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was also his closest friend. While he was the most outspoken conservative on the court, she was the most outspoken liberal and their dissents were often aimed at each other’s majority opinions. Still, the friendship between Justices Scalia and Ginsburg was so famous and visibly genuine that it inspired the production of “Scalia/Ginsburg: A (Gentle) Parody of Operatic Proportions” an opera that debuted in 2015.
Their mutual respect and affection for each other was a reminder that people can disagree passionately about politics while still holding a dear friendship and that there is more to a person, even one who dedicated the majority of his life to interpreting the law, than his political sentiments. So before we get swept up with political ramifications of Justice Scalia’s death, let us mourn the life of a devoted public servant and impressive intellect. While I will never agree with his distasteful comparison of health insurance to broccoli, I will choose to remember him as the smiling face riding an elephant with the Notorious RBG, making up three-fourths of my favorite “odd-couple.”