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Death of Antonin Scalia: Confirmation of a Justice of the Supreme Court

Moments after the news broke of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate GOP leaders immediately made it clear they will not confirm a nominee from President Barack Obama to replace him and are prepared to wait until a new president is in office, keeping in line with tradition that dates back decades. At issue is the so called Thurmond Rule, an informal Senate tradition named for the long serving former South Carolina Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond, that says judicial nominations should not be considered in the period leading up to a presidential campaign. The Thurmond Rule has been cited or conveniently used by members of both parties over the years to curb the flow of judicial nominations in an election year, as the party in charge of the Senate works to keep as many lifetime judicial appointments as possible out of the hands of the sitting president from the opposite party.

Democratic leaders argued it would be irresponsible for the GOP controlled chamber to wait that long to confirm a new justice. Unfortunately for Democrats, there is little they can do to force Republicans to act outside of making their case to the public and hoping Republicans buckle to political pressure. But Republicans, who are already furious with Obama’s many executive actions on climate change, immigration and other issues that go around the will of Republican Congress, are unlikely to cave.

Questions to Consider

  • Why is the Supreme Court the court of last resort?
  • What are the qualifications for a Justice of the Supreme Court?
  • How does the judicial branch of the American government balance the legislative and executive branches?
  • How does the nomination and confirmation process connect all three branches of the government? How is popular sovereignty demonstrated in this process? How is limited government demonstrated in this process?
  • Is the judiciary the “least dangerous” branch?
  • What is the process for nominating and confirming a justice of the Supreme Court?
  • What is the role of the Senate? Can the Senate delay the confirmation process? Should the Senate delay the confirmation process? Why or why not?
  • What options does President Obama have in selecting a Supreme Court Justice?
  • Why are there nine Justices on the Supreme Court? How are decisions made when there are only eight sitting Justices?
  • Which important cases are on the docket of the Supreme Court in 2016?
  • How might political polarization affect the nomination and confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice? How might the selection of a Supreme Court Justice impact the 2016 presidential election?
  • What powers are given to the judiciary in the Constitution?
  • Why is judicial independence necessary? What constitutional provisions assure this independence?

1) Judicial System Quiz: Chapter 15 pp.281-295 and Chapter 5 pp.83-97



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