Faculty contemplates Scalia’s legacy and the future of the Supreme Court

Maddie Liotta, Staff Writer

Students and faculty met in Academic West on April 21 over pizza to discuss the future of the Supreme Court of the United States in light of the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia in a Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) sponsored event. Associate Professors of Political Science Michael James and Scott Meinke and Associate Professor of Religion Brantley Gasaway led the discussion.

James began by describing the current political situation, particularly how the Senate is “quite determined to break the deadlock on the Supreme Court, after the presidential election.”

He went on to describe the ancient Roman icon of justice: a woman in robes wearing a blindfold, with scales in her hands. He emphasized that this image of justice is fair, impartial, objective, and most importantly, blind.

“Justice doesn’t know the identity of the parties for each case,” James said.

James highlighted how Scalia’s death has placed the Supreme Court in a deadlock with four liberals and four conservatives manning the bench.

The discussion also touched on the issue of judicial review; that is, how nine unelected, unrepresentative judges can change laws that they perceive to be unconstitutional. Scalia in particular attempted to employ the idea of originalism, trying to interpret the U.S. Constitution in a manner aligned with the intentions of the country’s Founding Fathers.

Gasaway said that Scalia would often ask “WWTFD?” or “WDTFD?”: “What would the Founders do?” or “What did the Founders do?” Gasaway discussed how Scalia believed that the government “can and should” endorse religion over non-religion as long as said endorsement isn’t preferential in any way.

“Religion should play a robust role in government life,” Gasaway said.

Gasaway highlighted Scalia’s opinion in a famously contentious case: Employment Division v. Smith. In this case, two Native American men were fired from their jobs at a drug rehabilitation center because they ingested peyote, a hallucinogen. However, the drug was taken in a certain Native American religious festival in which the two took part. Scalia held that they should have been fired because the First Amendment doesn’t allow certain people to disobey laws made for everyone. Scalia believed that if the Supreme Court decided in the favor of these men, the decision would elevate doctrine belief above the “law of the land.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court decided against the men.

Meinke addressed the current issue of the deadlock in the Supreme Court, particularly how President Barack Obama’s pick of Merrick Garland would swing the Supreme Court decidedly to the left, as Garland is a moderate.

The Republican senators, led by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have refused to act on any Obama nominee. That is to say, they have refused to acknowledge Garland as a possible replacement for Scalia. Scalia’s death places recent Supreme Court decisions in a vulnerable spot, and new conservative decisions are not conceivable if a true moderate such as Garland fills Scalia’s spot.

“I enjoyed listening to the professors from different disciplines talking about filling Antonin Scalia’s seat. I felt that the different perspectives really expanded my understanding of the current state of the Supreme Court,” Anya Lilaoonwala ’18 said.

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