The most recent conversations and debate topics of the presidential election sparked when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986, died on Saturday Feb. 13, 2016.
Scalia, known for his unique legal opinions, often enforced a very literal interpretation of the Constitution, often calling himself a textualist, according to law professor Ronald Rychlak who had met Scalia on multiple occasions.
Scalia had many interactions with Mississippi by serving as a speaker at many universities, making the University of Mississippi his last visit to Mississippi in 2014.
Rychalk said although many people disagreed with Scalia’s opinions and decisions, there are very few people that knew Scalia personally and did not like him.
“He was a friend to this university, and he certainly brought an intellectual viewpoint to the courts,” Rychalk said.
Rychalk said there are two polarizing opinions when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. He said there are people who believe the Constitution needs to be a living, breathing document that morphs and adopts for the needs and issues of the current day and those who believe the Constitution should be interpreted literally in the terms it was originally set in.
“Scalia had a pretty clear vision,” Rychalk said. “Scalia would try to tether all current law to the constitution as written.”
Rychalk said Scalia believed it was his job not to make law, but to look at the laws and interpret them as they were originally written. He said Scalia would often joke about the difference in opinion he would have with other justices.
“He goes ‘So, what am I left with?’” Rychalk said. “ ‘A dead, rotting constitution?’”
The process of appointing a new supreme court justice could prove to be a difficult task, as many conservative senators could possibly delay that process, Rychalk said.
“I think it shows immediately the importance of (appointing a new Supreme Court Judge),” Rychalk said.
Rychalk said the court can still function with fewer than nine judges. He said the biggest problem will be the distraction of guessing, speculation and campaigning surrounding the pending appointment.
Rychalk said the most important thing to remember is that the United States government is designed to run on checks and balances, along with the separation of powers.
“We don’t have kings,” Rychalk said. “So, when something happens, you lose a president, you lose a supreme court justice, our government continues to function. It’s not the end of the world.”
Rychalk said Scalia was often referred to as someone with strong conservative ideals, but was not advancing a political agenda.
“I think it’s wrong to say he was a conservative,” Rychlak said. “He had a vision of the constitution that lead to conservative answers.”
Rychalk encouraged students to be engaged citizens this election season by studying and understanding the views of each candidate in order to fulfill their obligation to make an informed voting decision.