Once upon a time, the death of a Supreme Court justice wouldn’t have brought America to the edge of constitutional crisis. But that was a different country, with a very different Republican Party. In today’s America, with today’s GOP, the passing of Antonin Scalia has opened the doors to chaos.
In principle, losing a justice should cause at most a mild disturbance in the national scene. After all, the court is supposed to be above politics. So when a vacancy appears, the president should simply nominate, and the Senate approve, someone highly qualified and respected by all.
In reality, of course, things were never that pure. Justices have always had known political leanings, and the process of nomination and approval has often been contentious. Still, there was nothing like the situation we face now, in which Republicans have more or less unanimously declared that President Barack Obama has no right even to nominate a replacement for Scalia — and no, the fact that Obama will leave soon doesn’t make it OK. (Justice Anthony Kennedy was appointed during Ronald Reagan’s last year in office).