This Sunday, Justice Scalia was found dead at age 79.
Antonin Scalia served for three decades on the Supreme Court before dying of a heart attack. His death was marked by President Barack Obama, noting Scalia as “one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court.”
Justice Scalia’s death has wider implications for the future of US democracy; as a jurist on the Supreme Court, Scalia had a lifetime appointment, voting on divisive issues in US politics such as abortion, affirmative actions, and unions. His death makes the appointment of the next judge imminent – and contentious.
Prior to his death, the Supreme Court had a conservative ideological bias, with four judges appointed by Democratic presidents and five by Republican presidents. With his death, the Court become more neutral and perhaps more liberal – Justice Kennedy was appointed by President Reagan but has often voted with liberals, making him the swing vote in many cases.
Law students should investigate the arguments against a swift instatement of a new judge; namely, that a new judge should not be appointed until the next election out of service to the late Judge Scalia. This has been criticized by liberals, however, as a political move to prevent a liberal majority taking place in the Supreme Court.
HSPS applicants should consider the political and sociological dimensions of the appointment of a new judge, and the balance the US should achieve between honouring the death of a leading public figures and fulfilling civic duty to appoint a new judge.