The death of 79-year-old Antonin Scalia, someone many students have likely never heard of until the news broke Saturday, leaves an open spot in what is arguably the most influential and powerful group of decision makers in the United States—the justices seated on the Supreme Court bench.
Plessy v. Ferguson, Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education are some of the most famous Supreme Court decisions in United States history. For better or for worse, they had a significant social impact for years to follow. Nonetheless, we rarely hear about the justices who ruled on these cases. Wouldn’t it be compelling to know more about the men and women that have such authority and make such difficult decisions that have enormous implications?
Although his death deserves proper respect, it’s difficult not to speculate on who his replacement might be and her/his potential impact on the country.
Scalia, who had conservative tendencies when it came to decisions, dissented in the June 2015 ruling that declared laws preventing same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Theoretically, a more liberal-leaning justice could potentially open the door to more liberal legislation being declared constitutional, especially if Democrats gain control of the White House and Senate in the next few years.
For over 140 years, there have consistently been nine Supreme Court justices seated on the bench. Justices are introduced by the president and then voted on by the Senate, requiring a majority for confirmation. The most recent justice added to the bench was Elena Kagan in 2010.
Despite the power the Supreme Court has, recent studies suggest that a majority of Americans are not entirely knowledgeable of those presiding on the highest bench in the United States.
Disturbingly, data from FindLaw.com found that only 34 percent of Americans could name a single justice seated on the Supreme Court. That’s shocking when considering the implications it has on virtually everyone in this country.
Typically, The New Hampshire staff is skeptical when it comes to making generalizations based off of survey collections. However, we would be willing to bet that an overwhelming majority of Americans could not name every justice, or even more than a few, on the Supreme Court.
More or less, the Supreme Court’s role is to determine whether or not acts of our government’s legislative and executive branches are constitutional. More specifically, the court serves as an important means of checks and balances. Throwback to high school civics, we know.
For example, Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, but it was officially found constitutional when the Supreme Court ruled it so in 2012. On the other hand, the Affordable Care Act would not be enforceable by law if it had been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2012.
The men and women of the United States Supreme Court serve an important role in our nation, and The New Hampshire respects the difficult job they have at hand. However, we implore the student body, and our greater readership in general, to take some time to research the sitting justices.
Political views and thoughts on decisions aside, our thoughts are with the Scalia family, and we condemn those who have readily expressed poor taste in light of his death.