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Politics

How One Local Expert Views the Politics of the Scalia Vacancy

Justice Antonin Scalia
U.S. Supreme Court

A local political science professor says the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia doesn’t necessary affect the 2016 presidential election.

“I may be mistaken, but I’m the one who doesn’t think it’s going to have a large impact on the election,” Dr. Kevin Pybas, a Missouri State University pre-law advisor, said.

Pybas’ reasoning is based on the political knowledge and motivation of the electorate, noting some aren’t as up-to-date with current affairs as others.

“Those kinds of voters are unlikely to be motivated by, something in one sense is rare and almost obscure, Supreme Court appointment,” Pybas said. “The voters who are motivated by that issue are already motivated.”

However, Pybas thinks the Senate Republicans, some of which are running for re-election, should carefully calculate their approach in the confirmation process of the new Supreme Court nominee.

“They potentially alienated a lot of Republican voters themselves if they are not the loyal oppositions as [they] were to President Obama,” Pybas said. “Yet at the same time, they risk alienating independent voters if they are too obstructionist.”

Pybas says it is not novel for the Senate to reject a president’s nomination. However, the issue does not lie on the candidates.

“What maybe is the difference now is nakedly partisan, if you will, that is making clear that the objection (rhetoric) is not really specific to a candidate—the qualities and qualifications of a particular nominee,” Pybas said. “It’s about who’s doing the appointment.”

To Pybas, the Republican Party is facing a greater risk than Democrats.

“The base of the Republican Party wants to see a loyal opposition to President Obama; the base would be pushing for delay and for the Senate not to confirm any appointment that President Obama may make,” he said. “Yet at the same time, you can’t win an election just appealing to the Republican base.”

Pybas continued, “So the question would be if this is the direction that the Senate Republicans go.”

Justice Scalia has been referred to as the most philosophically firm and deeply conservative on the High Court. His departure leaves the future of its high-profile cases unpredictable.

According to Pybas, the Supreme Court has been divided 5-4 on past decisions concerning freedom of speech, the Citizens United case, and religious liberty, among others. He says if Obama’s court nominee is blocked and the GOP wins the presidency, the court may retain its conservative-majority status quo.  

“If President Obama succeeds in getting an appointment on, or (if) the next president is Democrat and makes a similar appointment,” Pybas continued, “Then all of these hot-button issues that have been trending in a conservative direction for some time that are all in jeopardy of being overturned or distinguished as not binding.”