Ironically, United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, 79, died yesterday of natural causes after spending the day hunting quail at a resort ranch in west Texas. Generally regarded as the most conservative member of the court, his death eliminates the one-vote conservative majority. This means the justices will likely tie 4-4 on many issues until Justice Scalia is replaced. From the New York Times,
The court faces a crowded docket of politically charged cases that are certain to resonate in the presidential campaign on issues such as immigration, abortion, affirmative action, climate change, labor unions and Obama’s health care law. Decisions were expected in late spring and early summer on whether the president could shield up to 5 million immigrants living in the United States illegally from deportation.
The immediate impact of Scalia death means that the justices will now be divided 4-4 in many of those cases. If there is a tie vote, then the lower court opinion remains in place.
A Senate looking at a limited legislative agenda in an election year now faces one of the most consequential decisions for the venerable body. Not only will voters choose the next president, majority control of the Senate is at stake in November, with Republicans clinging to control and concerned about the fate of some half dozen GOP senators running for re-election in states that Obama won.
What is supposed to happen: President Obama will nominate a successor. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a confirmation hearing. If it approves the nomination, the full senate will vote on the nomination. If approved by a majority, the nomination will be confirmed and the new justice will be sworn in. The appointment is for life, or until such time as the justice decides to retire.
What is going to happen: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already announced that the Republican controlled Senate will not hold hearings to consider President Obama’s nominee. He hopes that a Republican will be elected in November.
What this means for the country: We damn well better elect a democrat as our next president.