Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia visited Gettysburg in 2013. He took to the podium and swore in new citizens as part of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address celebration.
At a luncheon afterward, Scalia waxed poetic about lyrics in the Star Spangled Banner.
“The land of the free and the home of the brave, the two go together,” Scalia said. “You can’t be free unless your brave and brave men died here in that conflict in Gettysburg. That’s what President Lincoln was honoring and that is what we have to honor. Their sacrifice and the need for continuing sacrifice by free men and women if they want to remain free.”
As news of his passing spread this weekend, Scalia is being honored by many as an intellectual heavyweight and strict constitutionalist.
“His big philosophy is that law means what law says, that judges should not impose their own kind of philosophies,” said Michael Dimino, a professor at the Harrisburg campus of Widener University Law School.
The death of the justice who visited Gettysburg has set off a bit of a civil war over his replacement. Weighty issues like abortion, affirmative action, and immigration are before the high court which used to lean conservative by the most tenuous of margins, 5-4. So what now?
“Some, perhaps most, will now be divided 4-4,” Dimino said. “Which now means that the lower court ruling stands and the Supreme Court will not be able to issue a precedence in those situations.” That means the lower court ruling will apply to the circuit in which the case was brought but will not become the law of the land. Dimino said there’s a chance the high court pushes a decision until the following year when it’s at full complement.
The issue is also hugely political. Voters will not just pick a president this year, they’ll likely decide the balance of power over the high court deciding two branches of government with one vote.
“I really think people are probably struggling with what to make of all this and whether this is just another heightened partisan issue that candidates are going to fight about,” said Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling & Research and ABC 27 political analyst. “Does it really mean something to average people?”
Dimino says average Midstaters should care about the high court vacancy because Supreme Court rulings affect everyone.
“It affects the individual liberties that we have, religious liberties that we have, the rights to be free from governmental intervention in all types of areas in our lives.”
It is possible, even probable according to Dimino, that Scalia had voted and written opinions on several of the issues before the court. He says Scalia’s vote will not count and those opinions will be dismissed.
“It’s not official until it’s official,” Diminos said. “Because justices always have the opportunity to change their mind right up to the point it becomes final.”