Justice Antonin Scalia’s death highlights the tragedy that is the American political system. The mere fact that we continue to speculate as to whether President Obama will be able to push a nomination through the Senate illustrates how deeply polarized the Senate is. Sure, it’s popular to lament polarization and harken back to the good ol’ days of camaraderie and (gasp!) bipartisanship. But it is legitimate to worry when the Senate and the President seem unable to compromise on instating a qualified candidate.
If there is no 9th justice, then 4-4 decisions are possible this coming summer. If there are any ties, the lower court’s decision will stand. It is shameful that the Court could be unable to offer an opinion on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The decision has a First Amendment question, exactly the kind of question that the Supreme Court should be deciding, not leaving to a lower court. If the Supreme Court doesn’t offer a definitive interpretation of the law, it has failed to carry out its ordained duty. The Senate’s refusal to confirm a qualified nominee, thereby increasing the likelihood of a 4-4 decision, prevents the judiciary from carrying out its duty.
Deliberately undermining the structure of a branch of government, just because of some factional affiliation, seems awfully like refusing to carry out an oath to protect the Constitution and its spirit.
If Senate Republicans stall a confirmation until they have a Republican president, they will be waiting about a year at the very least. According to the Right’s populist principles, it’s not even in the Right’s best interest to leave a vacancy in the Court longer than necessary. The Right likes to complain about “black-robed supremacy,” to quote Justice Scalia, about too much power in too few hands. Filling the vacancy would add two more hands to the current sixteen, and according to the Right’s logic, reduce tyranny by 12.8%.
Scalia’s passing is in itself upsetting because we lost a brilliant, clever mind. The Senate’s refusal to fill Scalia’s seat isn’t even an act of mourning. It’s a headstrong degeneration of government into a pool of “pure applesauce,” a purée of lumps, devoid of substance. After all, if the Supreme Court is unable to carry out its constitutionally recognized duty to offer an opinion on what the law is, it is rendered powerless, and becomes an ineffective check on both the legislature and the President. Politics has no right to undermine just governance.