Epic Battle Begins Over Scalia's Vacant Supreme Court Seat
Though first stopping to offer family and friends condolences after news broke on Saturday that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had unexpectedly passed away, the political world in the U.S. wasted no time in drawing the battle lines over the key who and when questions regarding the successor to the empty seat.
Antonin Scalia (1936-2016) died unexpectedly on Saturday turning the political world upside down.
Within hours of the news of Scalia's death, high-profile Republicans—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and leading contenders for the GOP presidential nomination—all issued statements arguing that it should be the next president, not President Obama, who should appoint the next Justice.
"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," said Sen. McConnell in a statement on Saturday. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President."
As the Huffington Post reports, it was just "mere minutes after the Scalia news broke" when "Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who sits on the Judiciary Committee—through which any Supreme Court nominee must go—placed the chances of a replacement at nil."
According to a tweet sent by Carroll: "What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice to replace Scalia?"
When he heard to the news, presidential canidate Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted: "Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement."
Leading Senate Democrats, of course, also weighed in. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member of the judiciary committee, rejected Republican arguments by stating, "I hope that no one will use this sad news to suggest that the President or the Senate should not perform its constitutional duty."
During Saturday night's Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, hosted by ABC News, Scalia's death and what it means for the future makeup of the court dominated the early rounds. Most agreed with the idea that Republicans in the Senate should do everything possible to make sure Obama not be able to push through his chosen nominee.
Obama himself, however, also appeared live from the White House on Saturday. He expressed his condolences to Scalia's family but also let it be known that he had no intention of abdicating his responsibility to make the appointment, saying he would make one "in due time" and that he expects Congress to give his ultimate nominee a "fair hearing and a timely vote."
The responsibility to make such appointments, he said, was "something I take seriously, as should everyone. They’re bigger than any one party. They’re about our democracy."
Given the contentious and high-stakes implications of appointing a Supreme Court Justice during his last year in office—especially against the backdrop of a highly energized and polarized electorate focused more on the issue than usual—legal experts, historians of the court, and political observers argue that Obama's decision to appoint an appropriate successor, and his ability to get that nominee through the Senate, will be both difficult and enormously consequential.
As William Blum, political historian and author, wrote in this analysis on Saturday evening:
Politically, Scalia’s passing will unleash a pitched battle on two fronts: first, in the fight to name his successor, and second, as an issue in the upcoming presidential elections.
In the coming weeks and months, we can expect to hear a rising and increasingly hysterical chorus of Republicans demanding that President Obama refrain from nominating Scalia’s successor. Indeed, if initial press reports are any indication, the trench warfare has already begun.
But with roughly 11 months remaining in his term, Obama undoubtedly will move forward. Anyone he names will surely be more liberal than Scalia, and anyone he names will tip the balance of the court.
Republicans are basically arguing that the existence of the presidential campaign season should strip Obama of his right to appoint a new Justice, calling instead to make the election a kindof referendum on the empty seat. But according to Amy Howe, a legal scholar and write for the SCOTUS, there is no convincingly sound or historical precedent for making such claims.
"The historical record does not reveal any instances since at least 1900 of the president failing to nominate and/or the Senate failing to confirm a nominee in a presidential election year because of the impending election," writes Howe. Since at least 1900, she continues, "there were several nominations and confirmations of Justices during presidential election years."
Howe later explains that even though there were two times in the twentieth century when "presidents were not able to nominate and confirm a successor during an election year" neither of these examples reflect "a practice of leaving a seat open on the Supreme Court until after the election."
Meanwhile, New Yorker staff writer John Cassidy said he would leave it to constitutional experts to parse some of the history and judicial arguments, but said that in "political terms" there is no way that operatives in both parties are not scheming to take advantage of the situation:
It is well known, and accepted on both sides, that the Democrats’ hopes of holding on to the White House hinge on getting a high voter turnout on November 8th. If you were a Democratic strategist trying to maximize turnout, what would you most like to see? One possibility, surely, is the prospect of the election being transformed into a referendum on the President versus the do-nothing Republican Congress. [...]
If the Republicans block the nomination without properly considering it, which also seems likely, a huge political row will ensue, enveloping the Presidential race. (In fact, it has already done that, as the Republican debate proved.) Come summer and fall, the Democratic candidate, be it Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, will be able to go the country and appeal for support in preventing the Republicans from humiliating President Obama and making a mockery of democracy.
In remarks on Saturday night given at a fundraiser for the Colorado Democratic Party in Denver, both Democratic presidential candidates rejected the idea of Republican obstructionism.
"It appears that some of my Republican colleagues in the Senate have a very interesting view of our Constitution of the United States," said Bernie Sanders. "Apparently, they believe that the Constitution does not allow a Democratic president to bring forth a nominee to replace Justice Scalia. I strongly disagree with that."
Sanders continued, "I very much hope that President Obama will bring forth a strong nominee and that we can get that nominee confirmed as soon as possible. The Supreme Court of the United States has nine members, not eight. We need that ninth member."
Hillary Clinton offered similar sentiments. "It is outrageous that Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail have already pledged to block any replacement that President Obama nominates," Clinton declared. "Barack Obama is the president of the United States until Jan. 20, 2017. That is a fact, my friends, whether Republicans like it or not."
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By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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