I know I am not the only one who has been thinking a lot about the unexpected passing of Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia over the past few days. His legacy will last for decades and his decisions, and minority reports, will no doubt be studied by law students, lawyers and judges for even longer. Albert Mohler was correct when he wrote, “Antonin Scalia is almost surely the most influential justice to sit on the Supreme Court in many decades. The loss of his influence, as well as his his crucial vote, is monumental.” I agree with Mohler, and I was very sad to learn of Scalia’s passing. I was sad for his family’s loss of a loved one but I was mostly sad for our country and for the impact that Scalia’s too-soon departure from the Supreme Court will potentially have on both the present and future of this nation. That is why I also found it necessary to reflect on the following thoughts.
First, the United States as a nation, conservatism as a movement, judicial restraint as a philosophy and respect for states’ rights and individual liberty as ideologies did not begin with Antonin Scalia nor will any of them end there. He was a great and influential figure in each of those areas but now that he is gone they must all go on. Someone else–or, ideally, multiple someone elses–must step up and fill the very large shoes left behind by Justice Scalia. This is much like a baseball team losing its star player. The face of the team may change, the strategy of the team may change, the success of the team may even change, but the other players do not pack up and go home.
Second, this has been a great opportunity for me to remember the importance of seeing things from someone else’s perspective. Right off the bat I was thinking that I hope there will be some way for the Republicans to delay the confirmation of a new justice until after the election. There is no guarantee how the election will turn out, of course, but there is at least a chance that a Republican will win, which would also greatly increase the likelihood of the new justice being more in line with the positions held by Scalia than any justice appointed by President Obama. Mitch McConnell announced right away that he thought the new justice should not be appointed until after the election, and others were saying the same thing. President Obama, of course, indicated that he would appoint a justice. On Sunday evening it occurred to me that if the situation was reversed and there were a Republican in the White House right now I have no doubt that I, Mitch McConnell, and many others would be advocating for an appointment and confirmation before the election. It was rather like remembering that I cannot only like and defend free speech when it is speech I agree with and approve of. The beauty of free speech is just that–it is free, meaning you can advocate whatever you want no matter how much I do not like it, and I can do the same no matter how much you do not like it. I am not saying I want President Obama to appoint the next justice, but I cannot in good conscience argue that he should not, or that his appointment should not be confirmed if qualified.
The third point is somewhat similar to the first one but is important enough on its own that it needs to be stated separately. No one’s hope is in–or should be in–originalism, conservatism or any other philosophy or ideology of man. Neither is it in any human being, politician, judge, theologian or anything else–including Antonin Scalia. Psalm 146:3 says, in the Good News Translation, “Don’t put your trust in human leaders; no human being can save you.” One reason not to put trust in them is that they, as Matthew Poole wrote, “are utterly unable frequently to give you that help which they promise, and you expect.” Antonin Scalia was a wonderful Supreme Court judge, but his power and influence was limited. He was also a flawed human being. In his Notes on the Bible Albert Barnes comments on Psalm 146:3 this way: “Rely on God rather than on man, however exalted he may be. There is a work of protection and salvation which no man, however exalted he may be, can perform for you; a work which God alone, who is the Maker of all things, and who never dies, can accomplish.” If Justice Scalia had lived to be 150 and remained on the Supreme Court for that entire time, he could not have ever accomplished anything that would save anyone, eternally speaking.
Albert Mohler was correct; a giant has fallen. But that giant was a human being. A giant in the legal realm, yes. Still–and Albert Mohler would wholeheartedly agree with me, so do not read this as me suggesting that he said anything otherwise–whether or not I like the person who assumes the seat vacated by Scalia, whether or not that person is an originalist or an activist judge, is not where my priority should be. Whether or not Antonin Scalia is on the Supreme Court does not matter, eternally speaking. What matters is that God is still on the throne–and in Him will I place my trust and my hope.