13 February 2016
Antonin Scalia (1936 - 2016)
I don't like to speak ill of the dead, so let's just say the Supreme Court and the nation are better off without the Justice who passed away this weekend. It is a fact rather than a slur, however, that his reactionary originalism went too far for the 21st century, since he took it to mean that we should still be governed by 18th century attitudes toward sexuality, above all. At the same time, he betrayed originalism by reading a natural-rights ideology that is not explicit into it that resulted in the Court's inference from the Second Amendment of an individual right to keep and bear arms. Whatever his protestations, his vision of the Framers' original intent was really the personal ideology and religious bias of Antonin Scalia. His passing throws a torch into the tinder of the 2016 presidential campaign, and the results could blow up in the Republicans' faces. Senators Cruz and Rubio have already declared their determination to prevent the President from appointing a replacement for Scalia. Throughout the party, the rallying cry today is that the next President, whom they hope will be one of theirs, must be the one to replace the great man. The Obama presidency could not be summed up more perfectly from the Democratic point of view. The impending last great battle will only confirm what Obama has said all along, and what both Clinton and Sanders will echo from here to November: the Republican party remains committed to unconditional obstruction, at once fanatically ideological and blindly partisan, of the Presidential mandate. Yet Cruz and Rubio probably have no choice but to take such a stand immediately if they hope to win the Republican nomination. They may hope that the issue will put fresh pressure on Donald Trump, who from now on is sure to be pressed as never before on whom he'd nominate, and on what basis. If it appears that the future of reproductive liberty is at stake in all this, there's sure to be a rally of female voters around the Democratic nominee, whoever it may be. Knowing that the general electorate is different from the Republican primary base, party leaders might take a note from football coaches who, when the opposing team has the ball on the goal line with two minutes to play and will take the lead if it scores, lets them score as soon as possible so they'll have the most time left to retake the lead. Wouldn't the accomplished fact of another Obama appointee on the court be more provocative for the voters the GOP depends upon, and more likely to get them out to vote in protest against his would-be Democratic successor? Maybe, maybe not. But since the President is unlikely to let the matter of replacing Scalia drop just because Republicans will oppose anyone he names, I can't see a protracted fight over the succession benefiting the GOP as the year grinds on toward November while the cry of "obstruction!" echoes across the land. Despite all that, I can't see Republicans stopping themselves. They most likely will be bulls charging the matador one more time, while the Democratic nominee wields the pic. If historians conclude that Scalia's death cost Republicans the 2016 election, they may also conclude that dying was his greatest contribution to his country. He might not do the country a favor simply by assuring Democrats the White House, given the person still most likely to win the Democratic nomination, but given the people likely to win the Republican nomination, he could do worse.