By Abe Field /// Staff Writer
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on Feb. 13 at the age of 80. A committed conservative, Scalia served on the Court for 30 years. Not only does Scalia’s death affect the makeup of the Court, but it could affect a presidential election as well.
Justice Scalia was famous for his scathing opinions. Often called the most intimidating of the Supreme Court justices, Scalia was referred to by many as “the Boss” because of his impressive stature and intellect.
The loss of Justice Scalia in the courtroom has huge implications for the cases that the Court will decide this year. Three cases that could potentially affect college students have to do with abortion, affirmative action and public unions.
In the case for affirmative action, Fisher v. University of Texas, the court will decide whether it is constitutional for colleges to take race into consideration when accepting applicants. The case tests whether affirmative action violates the Constitution’s equal protection principles.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, for and against abortion in a challenge to a Texas law that aims to close up to 30 abortion clinics, taking the state total from forty to ten. This will be the first abortion case the Court has heard since 2007.
Another significant case that the Court will hear has to do with unions. As many L&C students have already entered the workforce or come into contact with unions, this case is especially applicable to students. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the Court will decide whether or not non-union members have to pay a “fair share fee” that supports collective bargaining.
Scalia’s death leaves the eight member Court in a 4-4 split between liberal and conservative justices. If President Obama’s nominee to the Court is confirmed by the Senate the Court will have a liberal majority that will surely reshape the law for years to come, continuing what some see as a pattern of increasingly liberal Justices. The four liberal justices are Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The conservative justices are John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy.
Connor MeckFessel ’18 said, “Conventional wisdom says there was a conservative majority in the current makeup of the supreme court, but chief justice Roberts has swung liberal on many major cases in the last few years, especially including Obamacare. Even without Roberts, Kennedy has consistently provided a swing vote.”
“The loss of one conservative [justice] only solidifies the liberal trend the court has taken during this decade,” MeckFessel added.
“If Obama appoints someone, the Supreme Court presumably rules liberal on all the relevant social-issues cases unless some aspect of the specific case makes that not possible,” Decker O’Donnell ’18 said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the Republicans would refuse any candidate nominated by the President.
“I don’t know how many times we need to keep saying this: The Judiciary Committee has unanimously recommended to me that there be no hearing,” McConnell said to CNN on Feb. 22. “I’ve said repeatedly and I’m now confident that my conference agrees that this decision ought to be made by the next president, whoever is elected.”
This may also affect the presidential election because whoever wins in November would decide who could take Scalia’s seat.
“If [the Senate does not] block the nomination, Obama presumably nominates someone who’ll be softly liberal on all the clearly political cases so they can get appointed,” O’Donnell said. “But definitely not someone who would rule against like abortion and union rights.”
As the primary election continues, the progress of the candidates for the Democrats and Republicans will affect how the Senate chooses to proceed with nominating Scalia’s successor, as the Senate may be opposed to nominations from many of the primary candidates as well, according to Dahlia Dant ’18.
“The Senate wants to avoid a nomination by Bernie [Sanders] and Obama, and possibly Trump.”