Editorial: Scalia's death raises important campaign issue of judicial selection

As it turns out, our editorial last week may have proven all too prescient. We discussed abortion, a divisive issue that cannot change as a matter of public policy, only through judicial case law; in 1973, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled 5-4 in the landmark Roe v. Wade that the Ninth Amendment's implied "right to privacy" largely protected a woman's right to have an abortion in most circumstances. Consequently, only a subsequent SCOTUS ruling or a constitutional amendment can overturn that decision, yet the matter continues to be fiercely debated as an emotional, demonizing campaign issue.
The deceased Justice Antonin Scalia

Last Saturday, Antonin Scalia, whom Ronald Reagan appointed to SCOTUS in the 1980s and was the longest-serving justice on the court as of 2016, died, leaving a vacancy on the high court. Regardless of one's opinion of Scalia, who at times could be a polarizing figure, the vacancy his death leaves has finally brought to the table a campaign issue that is arguably the most important one of all: the President's power to appoint judges.

For all the legislative priorities candidates in both parties assert (particularly their convoluted 59-point jobs plans and the like -- basically nice talking points that demonize the opponent), very few such priorities will ever be implemented. However, one area in which the President has much power -- even though it is subject to Senate confirmation -- is the appointment of Supreme Court justices as well as federal judges.

Yet to date, in all the debates we have observed, not a single question has been asked, nor has a single candidate gone out of his or her way to discuss it. Not to be presumptuous, but given the ages of several other justices on the Court, it is possible our next President will have the opportunity to appoint at least three new justices to the high court, which could monumentally alter its presently balanced paradigm (prior to Scalia's death, four justices were generally considered "conservative", four generally considered "liberal", and one -- Anthony Kennedy -- is the "swing vote").

It is not hard to understand why this topic had not previously materialized; it is not emotional for most people … talking about new ways to spend money (or stop spending money) or talking about how we can defeat ISIS appeals much more to the emotions that many believe constitute the basis of the average voter's decision making than sometimes arcane discussions about judicial activism versus strict constructionism versus original intent versus judicial restraint, and how the Supreme Court should selectively incorporate amendments from the Bill of Rights in accordance with the 14th Amendment's sweeping "equal protection clause".

"We're going to defeat ISIS" sounds better, is easier to understand, and thus forms the basis for our campaigns. How sad!

Of course national security is of utmost importance, but it drowns out so many other important issues such as judicial selection, not to mention the pervasive nature of lobbyists in public policy, the ludicrous influence of special interest groups in regulatory rules, and the broader question of what America's fundamental goals should be.

We are not celebrating Antonin Scalia's death -- regardless of his opinions, he, like all Supreme Court justices, declined extremely lucrative opportunities in private practice to serve his country on the high court -- but even out of unfortunate circumstances can come wrinkles of positivity. In this case, we hope that the wrinkle of positivity would be a new commitment to presidential candidates discussing important issues such as judicial selection.

This editorial reflects the collective opinion of the LSNews.org editorial board. Its lead author was editor-in-chief Benjamin Pontz. It does not constitute an official position of the Lampeter-Strasburg School District, nor the advisor of LSNews.org. Questions or concerns can be directed to lspioneernews@gmail.com.


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