THE DEATH OF JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA
©Wendell Griffen, 2016
Justice Is a Verb!
February 14, 2016
Justice Antonin Scalia, the senior member of the Supreme Court of the United States, died overnight on February 12-13, 2016. His death is a terrible shock to his widow, their nine children, and grandchildren. We should consider their sorrow, first and foremost, in the immediate aftermath of the passing of their spouse and patriarch.
Justice Scalia served on the Supreme Court for over thirty years at the time of his death, longer than any of its other members. He served on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia before he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed by the United States Senate for appointment to the Supreme Court. He taught law at the University of Chicago, had worked in the U.S. Department of Justice as a lawyer, and practiced law after finishing at the top of his class at Harvard Law School. Thus, his sudden death is also a loss for his colleagues and staff on the Supreme Court, his other friends throughout the legal profession (both in the judiciary and in legal education), and many other persons across the United States.
Our first obligation when a family suffers the death of a loved one should be to comfort and assist sorrowing survivors. Concern for the Scalia family should be the foremost concern of every journalist and politician. We should protect and comfort Mrs. Scalia, her children, and their children by giving them time and space to absorb their loss. We should behave as compassionate souls, not political scavengers.
Our nation should respect the Scalia family enough to delay discussing and undertaking the process of filling the Supreme Court vacancy until the Scalia family has laid their loved one to rest. Then, the people who swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States should perform their official duties. Now is not the time for political grandstanding.
The reaction to Justice Scalia’s death by pundits in the news media and politicians vying to succeed President Barack Obama is saddening. Media pundits and politicians made token condolence comments yesterday. They quickly, and more enthusiastically, then began speculating and arguing about whether, when, and who President Obama should nominate to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court caused by Justice Scalia’s death. As a husband, father, pastor, and a judge, I find that behavior offensive.
Article II, Section 1 to the Constitution of the United States provides, at sub-section 8, that before anyone assumes the Office of President of the United States, that person must take the following oath or affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” President Barack Obama has a sworn duty to nominate someone to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. That duty is not debatable, transferable, or negotiable; nor does it depend on the political makeup of the United States Senate.
When people in the military lose a comrade they close ranks and honor their fallen member. Then, they carry out the duties they swore to perform. It is dereliction of duty to refuse to perform the duties of military service because one holds political differences with other service personnel.
Yes, 2016 is an election year. Nevertheless, President Obama has a constitutional duty to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia. The Senate has a constitutional duty to consider and vote on confirmation of the nominee. Politicians who don’t know this truth are incompetent about civics. Politicians who know this constitutional truth but refuse to honor it are unethical.
However, the work of choosing a nominee to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia and engaging in confirmation politics is not a pressing matter now, nor was it a pressing matter yesterday (February 13). The contenders to succeed President Obama and the pundits who report and speculate about politics know this is true.
Today, February 14, 2016, is not a “Happy Valentine’s Day” for Mrs. Maureen Scalia, her children, and their children. The politicians and pundits who spent most of last night grandstanding and posturing about the nomination and confirmation process for the successor to Justice Scalia should have known this. Sadly, those politicians and pundits appear to care more about their own ambitions than they care about Justice Scalia’s family.