Joseph Cotto, 2/16/2016 [Archive]

Scalia's Passing Creates a Quagmire

By Joseph Cotto

Antonin Scalia could not have died at a worse time.

The Supreme Court's most conservative justice often delivered rulings which made the sociopolitical realist such as myself cringe. His decades-long quest to overturn Roe v. Wade, for example, proved a consistent source of aggravation. This says nothing of the Judge's opposition to personal rights insofar as sexual matters are concerned; read his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas for more details.

What about Scalia enabling 'religious liberty' crusades which were, and still are, little more than attempts to unite church and state?

Despite all that, he held rock-solid credentials on individual freedom whenever economic policy entered the discussion. The man also stood against affirmative action schemes, had no problem with stringent immigration rules, and emphasized the need for state-level officials to handle many issues which federal bureaucrats assumed power over.

At times, Scalia even ruled on the side of civil liberties activists — specifically when he thought they correctly identified misdeeds in the due process system.

All things considered, the Judge built one of the most high-profile legal legacies in American history. His opinions frequently generated more attention than those of his colleagues; even when his words were written in dissent.

While I would not have nominated him, it must be admitted that, on average, Scalia was a positive force on the bench.

Over the next few months, cases concerning President Obama's executive order version of the DREAM Act (amnesty for young illegal aliens), race-based quotas on college campuses (double standards used for admissions), and how electoral districts are drawn (making states base constituencies on actual voters rather than raw population tallies) will come before the Supreme Court.

Scalia's right-wing instincts likely meant a positive outcome on each of those matters. Now, an even split among justices seems the best we can hope for.

Public sector organized labor is being challenged over collecting dues for collective bargaining, despite some members disagreeing with how their money is spent. Texas's hardline antiabortion law, imposing regulations so draconian on clinics that most have closed, is also headed for the bench.

We cannot forget about birth control. Religious groups claim it violates their conscience and do not wish to provide contraception in employee health plans. Legislation demands they get over themselves, hence the lawsuit that has worked its way up to the high court.

Scalia would surely have been less than helpful on any of these matters. Still, the immigration, affirmative action, and districting cases take precedence. His passing leaves concerned citizens in a lurch.

It also creates a quagmire for Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Obama nominating a successor and GOP politicos vowing to block his pick constitutes a February surprise — better than the October sort, but still bad in an election year.

If Republican senators persist in stonewalling a confirmation hearing, they will score major points with already disillusioned base voters. However, most of the press will deride them and Democratic strategists can use this to motivate turnout; a parting act of disrespect to the President, they will surely claim.

Should Mitch McConnell's legion cave, the Republican rank-and-file may revolt and refuse to come out on Election Day. Even if Donald Trump is the nominee, and some angry voters find him acceptable, more doctrinaire rightists who distrust Trump will shun the polls. Some might even vote for the Democrat out of spite.

There is a middle ground, fortunately.

Senate Republicans should hold off on confirming Obama's pick until the summer recess. When Congress adjourns, the President will be able to install whoever he wants regardless of what senators think. GOPers could then claim they were powerless to stop Obama, he would be satisfied in securing an appointment, and the hottest of hot-button issues would cool down.

Nonetheless, certain Republican voters will take offense. However, their numbers are miniscule in comparison to the throngs of party faithful who would feel betrayed by their elected officials confirming an Obama justice during the last few months of his presidency.

Whichever way one looks at the situation, it is a pickle. That does not stop opportunity from knocking, though.

——-

Copyright 2016 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at joseph.f.cotto@gmail.com.

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