Justice Antonin Scalia’s death causes stir, Senate Republicans vow to deny new nominees
Clay Dubberly, Editor-in-Chief
The Supreme Court began its first workday Monday, Feb. 22, with a tribute to late Justice Antonin Scalia, draping a black cloth over the seat which he used to fill.
The chair, which will remain draped for a month, “signifies a period of mourning the loss of our friend and colleague,” Chief Justice John Roberts said on Monday.
Scalia passed away from natural causes in a Texas ranch on Saturday, Feb. 13.
Some sources were criticizing President Obama over his decision not to attend Scalia’s funeral, and instead view him in repose at the Great Hall of the Supreme Court.
Neil Mattera, president of the Columbus Alliance in New York, said that “The president’s absence at Justice Scalia’s funeral is a slight to the Italian-American community.” Others, such as Obama’s former “Car Czar” Steven Rattner tweeted, “If we want to reduce partisanship, we can start by honoring great public servants who we disagree with.”
However, Michael Romano, professor of political science at Shenandoah University, who has a doctorate in political science, said that Obama’s response was appropriate, noting that since Obama was not close friends with Scalia that it wasn’t necessary for him to attend his funeral and rather view him in repose.
“In terms of the administration’s viewpoint on it, I think it was accurate to argue that Scalia’s funeral was not something that should be utilized as a political grandstanding point,” Romano said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest addressed political partisanship, saying Scalia’s death shouldn’t be used as a “political cudgel.”
“What the president thinks is appropriate is respectfully paying tribute to high-profile patriotic American citizens, even when you don’t agree on all the issues. And that’s what he’s going to do,” Earnest added.
President Obama personally addressed Scalia’s death in a press release from the White House: “Justice Antonin “Nino” Scalia was a larger-than-life presence on the bench — a brilliant legal mind with an energetic style, incisive wit, and colorful opinions.”
“Since Scalia and the president were not close friends,” Romano said, “he [Obama] didn’t feel it was appropriate for him to be at the national shrine at the day of his actual funeral.”
Vice President Joe Biden, however, who had a personal relationship with Scalia and his family, attended the funeral.
Following Scalia’s death, heated debate ensued as to who the new nominee will be. On Tuesday, Feb. 23, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, stated that the Senate will hold no hearings or confirm any new nominees. Mr. McConnell asked Obama to reconsider even submitting a name.
Senate Republicans said they wouldn’t reject nominees based on their merit, but they would disregard any suggestions from the president nonetheless.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid bashed Senate Republicans, saying: “The Senate? The world’s greatest deliberative body? They’re not going to deliberate at all.”
Mr. McConnell showed no signs of caving to pressure by Obama and Senate Democrats, saying, “This is [Obama’s] moment. He has every right to nominate someone. Even if doing so will inevitably plunge our nation into another bitter and avoidable struggle, that is his right. Even if he never expects that nominee to actually be confirmed but rather to wield as an electoral cudgel, that is his right.”
But he suggested Obama follow a different route: “But he has also has the right to make a different choice. He can let the people decide and make this an actual legacy-building moment rather than just another campaign roadshow.”
President Obama has clearly expressed his intentions to choose a different nominee, but Senate Republicans stand firm.
“Presidents have a right to nominate, just as the Senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent,” McConnell said.
“We believe that the American people need to decide who is going to make this appointment rather than a lame-duck president,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas said.
Issue also arose after a video of a speech Biden gave to the Senate in June 1992 resurfaced where he said that President George W. Bush should avoid making a nomination until after that year’s election.
Biden’s exact quote was: “…it would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is under way, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over. That is what is fair to the nominee and is central to the process.”
Biden held that his words were taken out of context.
Sri Srinivasan, a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals, is on the political radar as a potential nominee. Srinivasan immigrated to the U.S. when he was four years old, and eventually attended the University of Kansas’ computer science department.
In 2013, Srinivasan was confirmed 97-0 for the District of Columbia Circuit, making him the only Obama nominee to be confirmed unanimously.
Romano said that Srinivasan is “probably the strongest pick the administration has in order to get a confirmation from the senate because he is well liked by the senate.”
“He has a fairly solid, moderate stance on most viewpoints so he should be able to get through the judiciary committee without any sort of major hassle,” Romano said.
Scalia’s death and the unlikelihood of a Senate replacement in the near future also means that many votes could end with a 4-4 vote, making it as if the vote never took place.
When Scalia died, his family refused an autopsy for him, leading some conspiracy rings to conclude that some foul play had taken place. Romano referred to that sort of talk as “the ravings of a lunatic.”
Romano said that Scalia’s distinct interpretation of the constitution is something that “we are going to sincerely miss on the Supreme Court.”
“People stating that he shouldn’t be praised probably don’t actually have an understanding of just what he [Scalia] meant to the Supreme Court, but that’s also because public opinion of the Supreme Court is generally uninformed anyways: people don’t know anything about the justices — who they are, or how they make a decision. So it’s easier to form an opinion based on what the media tells you about a person. The media often gets it wrong when they’re talking about Supreme Court justices because there’s not a lot of attention paid into who these people are past the nomination processes,” Romano concluded.