Antonin Scalia was known as a strong conservative judge during his 30 years on the bench. Justice Scalia’s interpretation of the legal text followed the textualism theory. This theory holds to the literal meaning of the legal text in reaching a decision. His constitutional interpretation followed the originalism theory, which interprets the meaning of the Constitution based on what a reasonable person would decide at the time it was enacted to declare the meaning. His strong interpretation of the Constitution led him to be a great advocate for many of our constitutional rights, in particular the rights of criminal defendants. He wrote several opinions protecting a criminal defendant’s right to a jury trial, the right to confront an accuser, and the right to be protected under the 4th Amendment from search and seizure violations. His sudden death on February 13, 2016 leaves not only an empty seat on the bench, but also a crucial vote in a few cases for the upcoming term.
The next Supreme Court session begins toward the end of February, and some of the voting decisions have a good chance of being deadlocked to a 4-4 vote. If a deadlock vote occurs, the court has two options: either set the case aside for re-argument in the October 2016 term or reaffirm the lower court’s decision. A few of the cases that are going to be argued this term cover very controversial topics that include, abortion, union rights, and voting rights.
Abortion Rights: Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole is a case that challenges a Texas law that plaintiffs say hinders a woman’s constitutional right to terminate pregnancy because it places an undue burden on the women and clinics. The law requires the clinics to set standards similar to surgical centers, including specific rules on the rooms and doorway sizes, staffing, and anesthesia. Also, the law requires that the doctors have permission to admit the patient in a hospital no more than 30 miles away. This is the first major abortion case to be heard by the court in 20 years. Without Justice Scalia’s vote, a 4-4 tied vote could result in affirming the appeal court’s decision to uphold the Texas law.
Public Unions Rights: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is a case that challenges whether public employees who choose not to join the unions must still pay the union fees. A decision in favor of the teachers would reverse the current case precedent decided in the 1977 decision Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that public-sector employees could be required to pay a fair-share fee to the union that represents them.
Immigration: In United States v. Texas the court will decide the challenge raised by the state of Texas against the Obama administration’s programs known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. The first program allowed undocumented citizens lawful presence if they came to the United States as a child. That program expanded to include certain relatives of those children to lawfully live in the United States. A 4-4 tie would result in a huge loss to the Obama administration and would uphold the injunction brought by Texas and other states blocking the program.