Caitlin Mayo is a freshman nursing major.
After thirty long years of service filled with conservative intellectualism, 79-year-old Associate Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia’s time on the Supreme Court has come to an end with his passing on Feb. 13. Appointed by President Reagan in 1986, his views have significantly impacted the Supreme Court. As stated by Elena Kagan when she was dean of the Harvard School of Law: “He is the justice who has had the most important impact over the years on how we think and talk about law.”
Scalia was essentially the face and backbone of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing.
He has a fixed interpretation of the Constitution, as it was written in. As a textualist, he held that a legal text’s ordinary meaning is used to determine the meaning of the piece of legislation, rather than the legislative intent or purpose. Among his views on issues, he saw no constitutional right to abortion (he was of the dissenting opinion during Roe v. Wade in 1973), he was against affirmative action, and strongly supported the right to bear arms. He was known for his blunt language and staunch views, remarking during an affirmative action case in December that he “doesn’t think that it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible,” and that he believes that minority students may be better off “at a less advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.”
Scalia’s abrupt departure has changed the dynamic of the Supreme Court. Ideologically, the Court is now split evenly in two, four of the justices conservative leaning, the other four liberal leaning. The Supreme Court may even have a slight tilt to the left as of now, as Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate, has been known to vote liberally time and again. Without the Court’s strongest conservative, Republicans watch the Supreme Court’s vacant seat with weary eyes. The cases in the coming year or so involve hot decisions such as abortion rights, voting rights, the power of labor unions, and President Obama’s healthcare and immigration policies. Liberals now have a much better chance at having the Supreme Court decide these cases in their favor.
Now, President Obama intends to nominate a new Supreme Court justice, despite the Republican outcry to allow the next President to appoint a new justice. The process of nominating a possible candidate will be difficult— Congress has refused to accept many of Obama’s nominations for government vacancies as of late. According to Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim of Politico, “The United States has been without an ambassador to Mexico since July.” However, Obama remains determined to find and confirm a suitable replacement for the Supreme Court vacancy and fulfill his Constitutional duty to nominate lifetime justices to the Supreme Court.
Some of President Obama’s potential nominees include D.C. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, and Judge Jane Kelly of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
I won’t delve into much detail about each candidate, but I believe that Sri Srinivasan may have a good chance at filling the vacancy. Srinivasan is considered a moderate. His experience working under conservative appeals court judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will be a valuable asset that he could bring to the table. He was confirmed for the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 by an astounding unanimous vote of 97-0. According to The New York Times, Ted Cruz had even commended Judge Srinivasan for his performance at the Senate’s confirmation hearings. If nominated, Srinivasan would be the first Indian-American, Asian-American, and Hindu candidate for Supreme Court. Republicans would have a harder time with ardently opposing his nomination, especially in regards to the Democratic Party’s Asian-American constituency. An attack to Srinivasan could be seen in a poor light to this constituency. Conversely, nominating Srinivasan may potentially inspire Asian-American voters in the way that President Obama’s election had been inspiring to African-American voters.
As of now, there have been five immigrants to have served in the Court. Only two of those five immigrants served in the last 200 years, the last being Austro-Hungarian Felix Frankfurter in the 1960s. Due to lifetime tenure, the Supreme Court’s turnover rate is rather slow. Even if the Supreme Court was designed to be insulated against the sways of politics and to promote judicial independence, the Supreme Court does not fully represent the will of the people when judges like Scalia have stayed for so long. It’s a bit too early to predict how Srinivasan will lean, but if he leans as moderately as he has with the DC Circuit Court, I would feel more comfortable with his ability to decide in a manner that truly represents the interests of Americans, especially because according to a Gallup Poll from 2015, most Americans identify as moderates. Srinivasan is centrist and even-tempered, a man that I could see as Scalia’s opposite. If the Court really represented the true intent of the Founding Fathers, Srinivasan would be a new face that the Supreme Court desperately needs.
The Supreme Court nomination signifies a huge shift, one that would drastically affect our policy for the years to come. Republicans threaten to not grant a hearing to approve any of Obama’s possible nominations. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) told radio host John Howell “The advice is, let the American people decide the direction of this country” in response to the question of whether or not Senate will allow the nomination or not. A recent poll from American polling company Ramussen Reports speaks for itself. Americans want Obama to fill the Supreme Court vacancy and do not want Senate to block any nomination that Obama sets forth. America speaks for itself.