Dig Baton Rouge

An empty chair: Who will occupy Scalia’s seat?

“This is the greatest honor of my life.”

Standing outside on a bright and clear day, stood Merrick Garland, a man in the second half of his life who could ascend to the Supreme Court within the next year. Wearing a tailored black jacket, and stark white shirt, standing outside the French doors that lead from the Oval Office to the White House rose garden, he became emotional as President Obama introduced him to the nation as his nominee to fill the seat that was left open by the late Justice Antonin Scalia last month, according to NPR.

Scalia, a vibrant, hard-line conservative, died last month. His fiery brand of conservative and sharp opinions made him a polarizing public figure. Reviled by liberals and embraced by conservatives, no one can claim that Scalia stood in the shadows. Love him or hate him, he has left his mark on American jurisprudence for decades to come.

Within hours of Scalia’s death, Washington politicians were already making moves on both sides of the aisle. Almost immediately, Senate Republicans announced they would not hold a hearing, meetings or vote on any nominee put up by President Obama, which is a tactic that hasn’t been used in over 140 years. Senate Democrats on the other hand have been calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to give Garland an up or down vote as almost every other nominee in history has been given.

As for Louisiana, our two Senators, Vitter and Cassidy, are steadfastly refusing to break formation with their Republican colleagues and have committed to not even meeting with any nominee put forth by President Obama. The Republicans both said in statements that they oppose this nomination because they believe that the honor of nominating the next Associate Justice should fall to whoever is elected in November. However, one-third of previous presidents have appointed a Supreme Court justice during an election year, according to The Washington Post.

The past half century on the Supreme Court has been largely focused on detailing civil rights including abortion, segregation, the limits of free speech and much more. The next 50 years are expected to see privacy come into full consideration. With the rise of the digital age having no end in sight the court will be faced with many questions regarding electronic privacy and what federal, state and local officials should have access to and how. Currently, there is a case involving the Federal government and Apple that could end up before the high court within the next year.

The government wants Apple to write a code that will give them access to a phone owned by one of the San Bernadino shooters, according to the New York Times. Apple argues that if they provide this code then it could be used to gain access to any other Apple phone that the government obtains. The government argues that this is a special case and that they need access to protect national security.

If this case gets to the Supreme Court the biggest issues facing the court will be to weigh when national security outweighs personal rights and whether or not the government should be given a tool that could give them access to anyone’s phone at just about any time.

On another front, just last week Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson gave her annual speech before the state legislature. During her speech, she sounded the alarm on the underfunding of Public Defenders offices throughout the state. The 1963 case, Gideon v. Wainwright, requires states to provide a defense for those who can not afford their own attorney and Johnson believes that we are getting dangerously close to failing in our constitutional requirement to provide that service. Within months a third of our state’s public defender offices could become insolvent.

This situation is being caused by the current budget crisis, which is why many of these offices are facing cuts that are too deep to come back from. Johnson warns that these cuts “not only threaten the constitutional and legal rights of parties in abuse and neglect cases . . . they put Louisiana at risk of losing millions in child federal welfare funds.” This is important to note because this is the kind of case that could also end up before the Supreme Court, if Louisiana’s legislators don’t fund the program. If the Garland nomination is held up until the next President is put into office the court could have a split decision if this case works its way through the system quickly.

Garland is a moderate judge who is loved and respected by both Democrats and Republicans. The effort to oppose this nomination is a purely political move that puts huge issues at stake. The American people deserve for our elected officials to do their jobs whether they be President, Senator or nominee. The people deserve an up or down vote for the nomination of Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court Justice.

The question is, will we get it?

 

*Editor’s Note: This article contains the views and research of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of DIG Magazine.

 

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