Last week Justice Antonin Scalia unexpectedly passed away. He was appointed to the U.S. Supreme court by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. He was 50 years old and the youngest justice on the court at the time. He was well known for his sarcastic remarks. Earlier last year during the Obamacare ruling he stated that since the court was changing the law so they could rule in favor that they should be calling it SCOTUScare. The court reporters often said that he was by far the funniest justice. More importantly, he strongly believed in the Constitution and did not agree with liberal translations. He stated that “The Constitution is not a living organism. It’s a legal document and it says what it is says and doesn’t say what it doesn’t say.” Last June the court ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. In his dissenting option Scalia ridiculed the ruling as a blow to democracy in America.
“This is a naked judicial claim to legislative…power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government. Except as limited by a constitutional prohibition agreed to by the People, the States are free to adopt whatever laws they like, even those that offend the esteemed justices’ “reasoned judgment”. A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.”
He was a defender of the Constitution and the rights of the American people. And he will be missed. At this point there is a lot of confusion and debate surrounding the appointment of his successor. Whether President Obama appoints the new justice or not this is a good reminder of the vital role we all play in the political process.
Justice Scalia served on the court for 30 years which means he was making decisions that would affect my life as well as my children’s lives, well before I was even born. Though he served longer than most justices (the Supreme Court webpage states that the average justice serves a tenure of 16 years) it puts into perspective just what kind of a lasting effect Supreme Court Justices have. Though we do not elect them directly they are selected by the President and approved by the Senate. So even though a President can only serve a maximum of 8 years his choice of a Supreme Court Justice will serve at least twice that if not longer.
In his two terms President Obama has appointed two justices. Both of whom supported the legalization of same-sex marriage. Not all US presidents will appoint Supreme Court Justices. Some will never get the chance. However it is important to understand that all federal judges are appointed by the President. Just to put this into perspective, President Obama has appointed, with approval of the Senate, 323 Federal judges. That includes 2 Supreme Court Justices, 55 judges to the Courts of Appeal, 264 judges to district courts, and two judges to the United States International Courts of Appeal.
What does that mean exactly? A lot of judicial decisions, a.k.a. decisions that will have profound effects on the day to day lives of every American, will be decided by people who were handpicked solely to support the president’s political agenda. Judges are supposed to be unaffiliated with any party. But they are human and generally swing one way or the other.
All too often we get so caught up with the “here and now” that it is hard for us to see further down the road than just a few months. When we see these upcoming elections we see it in terms of the next four years. It is vital for us to understand the long term impact that our elected officials will have not only for the bills they pass and laws they enact but for the judges they will appoint. The role that the American people play in the political process is so important. It is so important for us to understand the impact our vote really has.