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The Death of Antonin Scalia: Supreme Rudeness

From the Dallas News

Published in ChicagoNow, February 15, 2016

I will confess right off the bat that I was no fan of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Our politics could not have been more dissimilar. But I was disheartened that the immediate response of politicians, especially those who shared his views, was to begin shouting about his replacement before his body was cold.

Scalia was discovered dead in bed around 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 13. An hour after his death was confirmed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned President Obama not to fulfill his constitutional duty to appoint a successor because the Senate would not consider any nominee he would put forward. He basically said the Senate would reject any appointment before President Obama even mentioned a name.

How incredibly rude. Couldn’t the political fight have waited even a few days? Did they have to begin the battle before Scalia’s funeral? Shouldn’t these folks, who admired Scalia so much, have limited their remarks to praising his service and offering condolences to the justice’s wife and family, to his 11 children and 26 grandchildren?

The lack of civility and common decency continued that same night during the Republican debate. After a moment of silence, they were at it. When asked about appointing a successor for Scalia, Trump cried, “Delay, delay, delay,” and Cruz warned the “wrong” appointment would mean the end of the second amendment’s right to bear arms. That’s right, folks of South Carolina, “they” are coming for your guns.

I think this is the reason so many of us are jaded about politics these days. There is far too much shouting and hardly any listening. Most of us are sick of the whole process, and the reaction to Scalia’s death is a perfect example. I get that this is a huge deal that could shape the Supreme Court’s decisions in the near future. Since other justices are up there in age, who knows where we will be in a few years. I guess it depends on the 2016 election, so that’s why more of us should vote. But all of the rhetoric could have waited a few days. Nothing would have been lost by that.

Our country is so polarized now that compassionate and appropriate behavior takes a backseat to getting in the next sound bite or the fastest tweet. I was away when Scalia died, playing with my grandkids in Indiana and watching them in a swim meet. It was only when I checked my email that afternoon that I discovered what had happened and the instantaneous politicizing of Scalia’s death. After the kids went to bed, I turned on CNN, only to discover that a battle over the potential replacement was in full swing. I did not hear one mention of a funeral for Scalia.

Other Supreme Court justices, even those whose views differed from his, paid tribute to Scalia. As did President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Biden’s remarks struck me as respectful and appropriate:

“Jill and I send our deepest condolences to Maureen and the entire Scalia family on the loss of their beloved husband, father, and grandfather. Justice Scalia and I had fundamental disagreements about how the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution, but we shared a belief that sharp debates, tough questions, and deep respect for the adversarial process was an essential part of our judicial system and our democracy. That’s how our rule of law—forged with the deep principles and convictions of justices, and laid out in majority decisions and minority dissents—becomes the model for the world. For the country, Justice Scalia will be remembered as one of our most influential justices, who inspired and challenged generations of students, clerks, lawyers, and judges. And for so many, he will be remembered as a mentor, dear friend, and a man devoted to his faith and his family, who will miss him most of all, and who we will keep in our prayers.”

When someone dies, whether it’s a Supreme Court justice or someone whose name will only make the news in her obituary, the same degree of decency, compassion, and respect should apply. The immediate political fighting in the wake of Scalia’s death was supreme rudeness.


by Laurie Levy
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