By Robert A. Vella
Conservative ideologue and U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died overnight Friday in his room at a private ranch in West Texas. He was there on a hunting trip, and reportedly complained about not feeling well before going to bed. His death has been initially attributed to natural causes.
Scalia was nominated by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1986. He had been the longest-serving justice on the nation’s highest court.
The future direction of the U.S. Supreme Court is now up in the air. The remaining eight justices are split evenly between conservatives and liberals, with several critical cases still pending including the Obama Administration’s EPA regulations to reduce power plant greenhouse gas emissions and executive actions to legalize millions of undocumented Latino workers. Other critical cases still pending involve civil efforts to restrict abortion rights, prevent labor unions from collecting necessary dues, challenge the consideration of race in college admissions, and remove the Affordable Care Act’s contraception requirement for religious objections.
With the U.S. Senate under Republican control, confirmation proceedings for any Obama nominee to replace Scalia are not likely to occur until after the presidential election in November and possibly not at all. In the latter event, the next president would have the duty to nominate the next Supreme Court justice. Until then, any case deadlocked 4-4 by the Supreme Court would automatically defer to the decision issued by the highest lower court – in most instances, a U.S. Court of Appeals. Of the cases still pending, some have been decided in favor of conservative causes, some for liberal causes, and some not decided at all (e.g. temporary injunctions, etc.).
The dilemma for Republicans is that the presidential election might not only result in another Democratic president (who would nominate the next Supreme Court justice), but could also put the U.S. Senate back under Democratic control (which must confirm the next Supreme Court nominee).