Antonin Scalia Died in Texas this Week. And The Rest of the World Should Pay Attention.
American politics took a turn for the even more dramatic this weekend - and for a change it had nothing to do with Donald Trump.
The drama occurred Saturday morning, when a 79-year-old man named Antonin Scalia died of a heart attack in his sleep. In Texas. So what you say?
The man wasn’t just any man. He was a member of the US Supreme Court. One of nine non-elected, lifetime appointees on a mission to maintain the Greatest Democracy the World Has Ever Seen™.
Think of the Justices like the Pope divided into nine holy parts. Each one is appointed for life, is approved by a group of wizened old raisins and takes an oath to uphold a sacred text written by God (or at least God’s self-identified representatives).
Is it odd that the highest court in a country that regularly touts itself as the best democracy in the world is controlled by lifetime appointees? Yes. It is odd. But for over 200 very odd years, it has kind of worked out okay.
Because with the protection of a lifetime appointment the Justices are free to do what they think is right. Damn the consequences. Kind of like living every day as if you were Donald Trump.
The lifetime aspect of the Court is very old-school. As is the institution itself. It still doesn’t allow any broadcasting, or even recording of its proceedings. There are no cameras allowed. That means no selfies, or even photographs that don’t require Kodak paper.
When rulings are announced they have to be physically walked out of the courtroom and read out. From something called paper. You might have heard of it. It’s that thing the Independent used to be printed on.
Why is this such a big deal now? Because Scalia has been on the court since 1986 - being put there by Ronald Reagan. For thirty years he has been a voice of staunch constitutional originalism. He saw the constitution as a nearly sacred text, to be strictly interpreted in light of the latest 18th century values. You know, quality things like slavery and women still not being allowed to vote. Ah, those were the days.
And on a court with only nine members, he was on the side that kept it leaning in a conservative (Republican) direction. And in spite of his political views, he’s gone and had the audacity to die with a liberal in the White House. Not just any liberal. The most evilest liberal known to American - the man some call President Barack Obama.
Because it is the constitutional duty of the President to appoint new members of the court. And Barack will likely to have the temerity to appoint someone he agrees with politically. The gall of the man. Like it’s his right as the elected President of the United States as stated in the Constitution itself.
But it’s not quite that easy. Because the US Senate - which is currently controlled by the opposition Republicans - has to approve the nomination. Normally that’s a battle, but coming in the middle of an election cycle it is going to be battle royale. Because the Supreme Court gets the final say on nearly every aspect of American life. From Obamacare, same-sex marriage, to even deciding that George W Bush should be President. Still think it doesn’t affect your life?
With the stakes this high, the leader of the Senate has announced he wouldn’t consider any nomination because Obama only has just under a year left as President. It’s a new interpretation of the Constitution, that says the last quarter of a presidency doesn’t count.
Ironically, the appointment of Scalia's replacement could be delayed in direct violation of the constitution he held so dear. If he was in his grave already, he’d surely be turning in it. But the battle over his replacement began even before anyone had a chance to order a flower arrangement spelling out “We the People”.
This showdown will be one of THE political stories of the next few months, or even the next year. It might even be bigger news than whatever Donald Trump is doing. Even if you forget Scalia’s name. His passing will result in events the world won’t be likely to forget.
But I’ve got a suggestion that should make everyone happy. Since Donald is so popular with Republicans at the moment - Obama should nominate him. Trump could modernize the court, bring the cameras in and add some Apprentice style pizzazz. Once Trump has a safe, secure, lifetime appointment he could stop holding back and finally say what he really thinks.