On Feb. 13, 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in Texas. News of his death sent shockwaves across the country and Trinity University’s political science department.
“I’ve taught Antonin Scalia’s opinions now, since I’ve been at Trinity. He was appointed in 1986 by Ronald Reagan, and now Ronald Reagan has passed. I mean talk about a lasting legacy on the Court for Reagan’s beliefs. He was part of a revolution that moved the Supreme Court to the right,” said John Hermann, professor of political science at Trinity.
Known as one of the more controversial Justices sitting on the Supreme Court, many also regard him as one of the most brilliant jurists of our time.
“I would consider him an intellectual giant in constitutional law. He’s celebrated by the conservative wing and despised by the liberal wing, there’s no doubt about it. I think it would be unfair to brand him as a bad judge. He was a good judge,” Hermann said.
His decisions were always had constitutional reasoning even if they went against what people believe.
“He’s known universally among law professors and PhDs of the judiciary as the academic favorite. His decisions were so colorful and so interesting to read. Many of the Justices’ decisions are pretty dry, not Antonin Scalia,” Hermann said.
His passing has created several questions in the field of political science. However, the biggest one at the moment is of what this means for President Obama and the upcoming presidential elections, especially since many members of Congress have stated that they will not approve any person Obama will nominate.
“Constitutionally the nomination power is one of the few almost plenary powers of the president so Congress cannot stop Obama from nominating someone. They don’t have to confirm the person but they can’t stop him from nominating someone. Nothing requires the Senate to confirm whomever the president nominates. The real question is, are there any grounds for the senate to deny a confirmation hearing whatsoever? This would mean the Senate is saying this is dead on arrival; we’re not even going to talk about it. And that’s a tricky question to answer. I don’t know of a situation in history whether there was a presidential nomination so far out of an election that was ever denied even a hearing,” said David Crockett, chair of the political science department at Trinity.
Others are looking at the ramifications Scalia’s death will have on the structure of the Court itself.
“If you think about it, Obama is a lame-duck president, for all practical purposes. He’s in a divided government with a Senate that isn’t going to easily pass anyone that he proposes. And anyone that’s even moderate is going to shift the Court to the left, because if you look at the Court now you have two hardcore conservatives, one being Alito and the other being Thomas. When Thomas first came to the Court you had a 94 percent voting agreement rate between Thomas and Scalia,” Hermann said. “So if they put someone moderate with Kennedy, who is called “Flipper” because he’s the swing vote and goes left and right, and Roberts has been trying to be more of a consensus builder. Anyone who gets approved who is not as conservative as Scalia could move the Court to the left.”