Politics, Spring 2016 Articles, Supreme Court

A Big Vacancy With Little Awareness

by Anderson Shumate
supreme court jpgOn Feb. 13, Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia suddenly passed away while  vacationing at a resort in West Texas. His death left the political world reeling and questions regarding the uncertain future of the Court unanswered. Would President Obama nominate a replacement in an election year? Would the Senate block his nomination until a Republican president took office?

Scalia’s tenure as the longest serving justice and a consistent conservative meant his vacancy effectively split the Court into two equal wings with four conservative and four liberal justices; however, the Court is not handicapped with eight justices. In fact, the Constitution makes no mention of the required number of Supreme Court justices.

Just this week, the remaining eight justices begun hearing oral arguments. The even number certainly alludes to the possibility of a tie, however, in the event of a tie, the lower court ruling would stand. The Court could choose to re-argue, but with it poised this term to hear cases on affirmative action, voting, union dues, and abortion, consensus seems unlikely.

In the midst of this uncertainty, PackPoll sent out a flash poll Monday morning in search of student opinion with the primary request of NC State students being their favorability of Justice Scalia, the likelihood of an upcoming Republican president, and whether a nomination would be made by President Obama or by the next president.

What the results determined was an obscurity enjoyed by Justice Scalia. Fifty-seven percent of students had no opinion. Historically, the Supreme Court has also enjoyed the same level of obscurity. Americans’ favorability of the Court has been high, but their awareness not so much; most Americans cannot even name one justice, which leads to the assumption their favorability is founded upon a lack of information.

The problem at hand is an oddly complex one. A Supreme Court vacancy has opened and Senate Republicans plan to block any nomination put forth by President Obama. Republicans claim that the voters should decide who should make the appointment, but as mentioned, the American public has little knowledge of the Court, struggling to name even one of the nine justices. When asked to name the chief justice, NC State students struggled as well. What exists is a big vacancy with little awareness of the stakes.

More in-depth analysis on the findings of the flash poll to come.

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