It may not seem becoming to politicize someone’s passing, but the significance of this moment could echo for generations.
Scalia had a reputation as a stalwart conservative with a literalist approach to the Constitution. He voted against the Obergefell decision that legalized gay marriage last summer, and he voted against the majority in 1992 in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe v. Wade and abortion rights.
With his death, America may also see the demise of a conservative hope on the nation’s highest court. His socially conservative stances were a relief on a court where justices tend to shift left the longer they wear the black robes.
President Obama will likely appoint his third Supreme Court justice. The last time a president successfully appointed three justices to the Supreme Court was Ronald Reagan.
If you compare Obama’s two appointees so far (Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan) to Scalia, the contrast could not be starker. Over the next few months a serious liberal could replace a serious conservative.
What lies before our nation could be the cementing of a liberal court that was already tilting left.
Twenty-nine justices have been appointed to the Supreme Court since World War Two. Of these, 21 have left office, and eight are currently serving. Of the 21, only three died while in office: Fred Vinson (1953), William Rehnquist (2005), and Scalia (2016).
Most Supreme Court Justices retire or resign from the court at a time of their choosing, leaving them in control of which president appoints their successors. This pattern gives the court ideological stability. Conservative justices let conservative presidents pick their replacements, and liberal justices let liberal presidents do the same.
There is no doubt that Scalia would not have wanted President Obama to pick his replacement.
Conservatives could try to block Obama’s recommendation, but that will only serve to further the narrative that conservatives create gridlock.
This is a sad day for Scalia’s family, and a sad day for America.
Rick Hardison is pastor of Great Crossings Baptist Church in Scott County.