February 16, 2016 brought the unexpected death of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He was a well-respected and the longest serving Supreme Court Justice, being nominated in 1986 by Ronald Reagan. Justice Scalia became known for his outspoken comments on cases dealing with moral issues such as religious freedom, abortion and same-sex marriage. He “believed that America is a religious country, but above all, he believed it is a country that must be governed by close adherence to what he saw as the original intentions of the Founders, as written in the constitution.” This would prove true in the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. He ruled against this case and said regarding this ruling that it was “at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our nation were built.”
In personalizing this news, I had to ask myself: What’s the big deal? Why should I care? How does losing a Supreme Court Justice affect me?
The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. After a decision is made at this level there are no more appeals. They ultimately interpret and apply the constitution to the cases they hear. Because of the magnitude of the cases brought before the court, only a few are heard each year. Past court decisions have impacted everyday Americans by clarifying freedom of the press and free speech, voting, segregation, education, evidence and defense when being accused of a crime, abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.
Per the constitution, when there is a vacancy on the court the President of the United States will nominate a replacement and the United States Senate must consent to the nominee before they are appointed to the court. Though this has happened numerous times over the decades, it is unprecedented to have it happen in a presidential election year. Some are calling for President Obama to hold off a nomination due to the elections. However, President Obama has reminded the senate that it is his constitutional duty to nominate a new Justice. With the President and the Senate at odds I would say the likelihood of an appointment this year is slim.
So why does this matter to me and what can I do?
The Supreme Court has a lineup of potentially landmark cases related to a challenge of Obama’s immigration policy, a challenge to a Texas law regulating abortion, a challenge to the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) requirement forcing religiously affiliated organizations to provide contraception coverage to employees, and other impactful cases. With the likelihood that the next president will choose the Supreme Court Justice, the stakes have been raised considerably. It’s imperative that we get out and vote and be active in getting our friends and neighbors out to vote so that the voice of the people can be heard. So that the presidency and the balance of the highest court in the land can align with our values and defend our families and our freedoms as one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.