Editorial: Scalia stood for the Constitution

The Detroit News

Antonin Scalia spent his life fighting for the integrity of the Constitution. The Supreme Court justice, who died Saturday at age 79, was one of the more influential members of the court over the past three decades, and the intellectual leader of its conservative wing.

He passionately advocated originalism, the legal concept that contends the Constitution should be read the way it was written by the Founders, and not blown by societal and political winds. Scalia took seriously the document’s strict limits on government authority and its clear separation of powers.

His absence from the court will be a win for the regulatory state. Federal agencies intent on pushing into the realm of lawmaking will have one less impediment to their ambitions.

That will impact a number of upcoming cases, most notably the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which the court stayed last week and which seeks to radically reshape the American economy by regulatory fiat.

And unfortunately, as with all else today, the justice’s death will also play mightily into the current presidential campaign.

Just hours after Scalia was pronounced dead, Republican candidates were on a raucous South Carolina debate stage calling on the Senate to block nominations sent to it by President Barack Obama until after a new president is sworn in. Some even suggested Obama defer the nomination to the next president. This is bound to become a major and contentious theme of the campaign.

But Obama has a Constitutional duty to submit a nominee. The Republican-controlled Senate can delay or block confirmation through the filibuster process, but that’s a high-risk endeavor, and one the GOP should consider carefully.

First, Republican senators running for reelection must weigh the potential of voter backlash against one more example of dysfunction in Washington. The blame for gridlock always falls heavier on Congress.

They also can’t be anywhere near certain the next president will be a Republican. If Obama offers them a moderate nominee — an example mentioned is Sri Srinivasan, the D.C. circuit judge unanimously confirmed by the Senate — he presents Republicans a tricky gamble. Do they turn down a well-credentialed, moderate nominee at the risk of positioning Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders to name a much more liberal justice?

Republicans want another Scalia on the court. To get that, they’ll have to win the White House and wait for the next opening. And even then, finding the next Scalia will be no easy task.

He was a once in a generation legal mind, and will be remembered as among the more consequential justices in history. Outspoken, funny and often caustic, his writings will stand as the most entertaining and sharply argued ever produced by a jurist.

Scalia’s commitment to the rule of law was unparalleled. He urged the court to announce clear and binding rules to constrain itself and prevent personal political views from influencing decisions. He also was a fierce defender of the Second Amendment, of privacy and of the rights of criminal defendants.

Antonin Scalia loved the law and his country, and he served them both with honor, devotion and intelligence.