The passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia leaves a tremendous void at a time when America desperately needs more individuals such as him. His loss has deprived America of one of its greatest defenders of the Constitution. My prayers are with his family and my prayers are with the United States. We have lost a great man.
Personally, I was deeply saddened to hear that we had lost Justice Scalia. One of the proudest days of my life was the day I graduated from William and Mary with my MBA in 1996. The commencement speaker that day was Justice Scalia. The passage of nearly 20 years has dimmed my memory, but I do remember leaving the ceremony inspired by the man’s words.
I looked at the 1996 edition of William and Mary’s Alumni Gazette to see what Scalia said that day. Below are some of his comments. I find the words he spoke 20 years ago to be very relevant, especially today:
“Humanity has been around for at least 5,000 years, and I doubt that the basic challenges it has confronted are any worse now, or, alas, even much different from what they once were.”
“Never compromise your principles: Unless, of course, your principles are flat-out wrong, in which case you would be well advised to compromise them as much as you can.”
“It is no accident that the most evil regime of the 20th century (Nazi Germany) … was brought forth by the society that was the most educated … The fact is that the education you have received, the broadening of your mind and intellect, has not made you either happy or good, but has simply increased your capacity for happiness or despair, and for goodness or evil.”
“This [graduation] is the end of a lot of things, including bills for parents, all-nighters to prepare for term-papers, communal living and a life of leisure.”
I was duly impressed and in awe of Scalia as he spoke. Presidents and Congress members come and go, but a Justice is there for the rest of their life is they so wish. Some members of Congress are able to serve for decades. It does happen. Some even acquire great power through membership on powerful committees and/or becoming the Speaker of the House. However, consider this: If you are a Senator, your vote is 1 of 100 votes. If you are in the House of Representatives, your vote is 1 out of 435. Plus there are always political consequences to consider. It’s always a tenuous situation.
A Supreme Court Justice on the other hand does not have to worry about re-election, approval ratings, or campaign fundraising. Their vote is 1 out of 9 votes and they have have a lifetime appointment, which means a Justice has both incredible influence and stability. It would be naive to think that Justices are immune to all political pressure or live in a vacuum, but they definitely have the ability to act independently. At the same time, whereas I could envision a campaign donor, special interest group, colleague, mentor, etc…telling a Representative, Senator, or even President: “I made you and I can break you” if said elected official refuses to comply with their wishes, I can’t picture the same being said to a Supreme Court Justice. I’m sure ego plays a role in the actions of some Justices, but the Founding Fathers did deem it important to establish a branch of government that is immune, to a large extent, from public sentiment.
When controversial Supreme Court are rendered, the natural response for those who disagree with the Court is to call for revamping it. I would classify myself as having been in that category. However, the Supreme Court has been in existence in roughly the same form since the founding of this country. At this crucial point in the Court’s history, it’s important to honor Justice Scalia and his beliefs. I believe the man would be the first to admit that the Supreme Court has and will continue to make mistakes, but also believe he would defend the institution on the basis that it was created by the Constitution.
As I reflect on the words Justice Scalia spoke to my graduating class 20 years ago, I find a lot of wisdom in them.
First, humanity doesn’t change. What a simple yet fundamentally truthful concept! Scalia believed in and loved the Constitution of the United States. More importantly, the man did not see the Constitution as a document to be reinterpreted time and time again to suit contemporary issues. To Scalia, the Constitution wasn’t intended to be anything other than what was written. If the document says it’s illegal to steal, it means it’s illegal to steal. The Founders didn’t intend for the definition of theft to be determined by modern circumstances. It’s absolutely ludicrous to think men in the late 1700’s could have possibly imagined today’s social issues let alone have intended their words to extend to such issues. What they DID intend was to allow for legitimate Constitutional Amendments and legislation to change laws to suit modern concerns. Scalia firmly believed it was up to legislators, not the Supreme Court to actually establish laws.
Second, it IS important to stick to one’s principles. It’s also important to have the wisdom to distinguish worthy principles from misguided principles. One can argue until they are blue in the face, but America IS great because of its capitalist ideals. I often wonder if those who support socialist ideals truly understand the implications. It NEVER occurred to me during the Cold War and the era of the Berlin Wall to look at communism and think: “Wow! We have it all wrong, we need to aspire towards THAT kind of society, not oppose it.” My brain simply can’t process the notion that socialism has become an accepted word in the United States and isn’t automatically seen as the incredibly misguided concept that it truly is…a concept doomed to failure. As Scalia, was well-aware, human nature doesn’t change. By eschewing capitalist ideals and embracing socialist principles, this country is taking a step towards communism. By extension, such principles also mark a move away from God and religion. Socialism will inevitably try to take the place of religion. It will also lead to fewer freedoms and ultimately restrict our right to self-determination. If there was mass starvation in the United States, that would be one thing, but from the point of view of the rest of the world, I fail to see where This country has failed to the extent that socialism should even enter the picture. It’s a completely over the top approach. Keep in mind that while Steve Jobs was a billionaire, he was no more immune to cancer than the poorest American citizen.
Third, it’s NEVER a good idea to assume America is immune to the upheaval and unrest seen in other societies. I have nothing but respect for the United States Military. Whatever it takes, they should be allowed to carry out their duties without their arms tied behind their backs. It’s not the Cold War, but it’s still possible for a President to seriously damage U.S. security. Obama’s preposterous deal with Iran combined with his other actions reminds me of the 1964 movie Seven Days in May. In that movie a military cabal attempts to overthrow a President who is seen as being too weak to protect America. This movie and the book it was based on were written in the 1960’s. Though a complex period, the government wasn’t as complex as it is today. Given advances in technology, it’s not totally out of the bounds of reason to see some treasonous, non-military cabal trying to accomplish the same thing…especially if a nuclear detonation were to happen on U.S. soil. I may not agree with the President, but he was duly elected and it would be high treason for anyone to attempt to overthrow him. If it were to happen, the consequences would be incalculable.
Pre-World War II Germany produced some of the greatest scientists the world has ever known. Some of these scientists were instrumental in the development of nuclear weapons. Think about it. Those scientists accomplished over 80 years ago, something that scientists in modern countries have yet to achieve. German scientists, such as Werner Von Braun were responsible for the rockets that put Americans on the moon. Educated, civilized, technologically-advanced: Those are all good things but never forget that Liberty must always be defended vigilantly. As Justice Scalia so eloquently put it, education not only increases our capacity for good but also for evil.
Scalia’s last comment to my graduating class is so true. Some people have to make tremendous sacrifices and work to the limit of human endurance to get their college education. Those students already understand hard work. A traditional 18-22 year old college student who is attending college on their parent’s dime or even with borrowed funds, probably doesn’t understand the life of leisure they truly enjoy. I certainly know I didn’t. College is hard, but the real world that awaits following college is even harsher. No one should have anything handed to them. It’s up to you what you do with your college education that counts. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I didn’t give in to despair or quit when things got too rough. What kind of message is being taught to our youth today? It seems like successful people are vilified. The message shouldn’t be to find things to cry foul over, but to focus on one’s own ambition and success. Life is what you make of it. The opportunity to pursue our dreams is all any of us can ask for as a citizen of a free country. There isn’t another contemporary country on Earth that has a document as solid as the U.S. Constitution.
Now the political battle will begin over filling the vacancy created by Justice Scalia’s death. The Constitution gives authority to the President to appoint someone to fill the vacancy, subject to Senate confirmation. One could argue that since Obama doesn’t bother to enforce the laws he was entrusted to enforce (i.e. illegal immigration, etc.), he shouldn’t nominate anyone to replace Scalia. Nevertheless, Obama will nominate someone, which is well within his authority. Obama may seem timid on the world stage, but domestically, he seems to always get the better of the GOP-controlled Congress. The current Congress could almost be described as Democrat-Light or Diet Democrat, take your pick. I don’t have any confidence in their ability to hold off Obama’s efforts to fill a Supreme Court vacancy for over a year.
In theory, ideology shouldn’t govern the rulings of Supreme Court Justices, but it does. A President is going to appoint someone who shares their own ideological beliefs. Obama is going to use rhetoric along the lines that it would be wrong for Congress to prevent filling the vacancy given the vital role of the Supreme Court. I’m not a legal scholar but I believe the Court can still function with 8 members. The main problem with not having a 9th Justice is the possibility for tie votes. For once, perhaps Congress should be proactive and call Obama’s bluff. I know my argument runs counter to the arguments of some GOP candidates and for all I know, I could be wrong, but the focus needs to be on the long-term bigger picture.
To me the GOP would be wise to put heavy pressure on Obama to fill the vacancy immediately. I mean serious pressure. Put pressure on him for once instead of the other way around. Justices do not necessarily act in the manner the President who appointed them expects. John Roberts hasn’t always been a staunch conservative. He has made decisions in support of Obamacare. I seriously doubt George W. Bush would have nominated him had he known that. Roberts isn’t an isolated incident either. Given that a Justice can’t be removed for failing to act in accordance with the ideological beliefs of the President who appointed him/her, there is no guarantee that a Justice appointed by a liberal won’t act in a conservative manner and a Justice appointed by a conservative won’t act in a liberal manner. There are no guarantees. The fact is that the sooner Obama makes a nomination the better, because it means he will have less time to screen and find candidates who will further his exact agenda and beliefs. He is a lame duck President and he isn’t in position to nominate and expect the GOP Senate to confirm an ultra-liberal Justice. I can’t speak for Justice Scalia, but I have to think the man wouldn’t want an unfilled vacancy on the Court for so long. Obama still has almost a year left on his term, which is more than enough time to fill the vacancy.
To me it’s not a matter of compromise as much as it is a matter of hedging bets. It’s better for the GOP Senate to work with Obama to find a moderate Justice who has no track record of furthering ideological beliefs. I believe Justice Scalia would want his replacement to respect and love American law the way he did. Scalia was an individual and it would be impossible to replace him. He was one of a kind. I think the best way to honor the man’s legacy is to find someone who shares the passion he had for the law.
There is no guarantee that the GOP will regain the White House. The 2016 Presidential race has been full of surprises and at this point it would be very hard to accurately predict the man or woman who will ultimately win the Presidency. It’s entirely possible if not inevitable that Trump will launch a 3rd Party bid for the White House if he doesn’t get the GOP nod. If he does that, then at least on the bright side, the transition of power should be smooth as a Democrat will be turning over the office to another Democrat. When Ross Perot ran for President, he wasn’t stealing votes away from Clinton. Likewise, if someone is inclined to support Trump for President and he isn’t the official Republican nominee, then it’s a safe bet that if he runs as a 3rd Party candidate, he will be splitting the votes of right-leaning voters. Anyone inclined to vote for Trump, is highly unlikely to have ever considered voting for Clinton or Sanders. The same can’t be said for Cruz, Rubio, and Bush.
The fact is that the next President will likely have to fill two vacancies during their term. It’s better to agree on a moderate/compromise Justice now and then swing the Court to the right with the next two nominations. I shudder to think what would happen if the vacancy spills over into the next Presidency and Bernie Sanders ends up appointing three Supreme Court Justices.
Rest in Peace Justice Scalia. I pray that as a Nation, we as a People, will continue to honor the Constitution you fought so hard to protect. God Bless the United States.