It was the last time the 79-year-old Scalia would announce an opinion. Three weeks later, on a hunting trip in Texas, the conservative icon died in his sleep.
Since then, the year has been one long roller-coaster ride for the Supreme Court, with the eight remaining justices putting off the most controversial cases while President Obama and the U.S. Senate struggled over filling the vacancy.
Republicans were shocked and horrified at Scalia’s death. Not only was he a revered figure in the conservative community, but he was the fifth conservative vote on a court that was often split along liberal-conservative lines.
What’s more, though, it was an election year. There was plenty of time to confirm a replacement, and no precedent for stalling for nearly a year to stave off that possibility. If Obama could fill the slot, it would mean that for the first time in a half-century, a majority of the justices would be Democratic appointees.
Within hours of Scalia’s death, however, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell vowed to block consideration of anyone Obama would nominate to the court. The choice, McConnell said, should be made by the next president, after the election, to “give the people a voice in filling this vacancy.”
Obama tried to finesse an appointment, picking as his nominee a relative centrist, a man Republicans had urged him to appoint when there were earlier vacancies: Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and a man beloved and respected by his colleagues on both the right and the left.
Obama kept pointing out that he had fulfilled his constitutional duty. “Now it’s time for the Senate to do their job,” he declared. “Give Judge Garland a hearing. Give Judge Garland an up-or-down vote.”
But McConnell didn’t budge. His position was so unprecedented that …