As this issue of Church & State was going to press, news broke about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The associate justice died in his sleep while visiting a hunting lodge in Texas Feb. 13. He was 79.
President Barack Obama announced that he plans to name a replacement for Scalia, but Republicans, who hold a majority in the U.S. Senate, have said they will not allow a vote on an Obama candidate. They believe the next president should fill the vacancy.
Scalia, who was appointed to the court by President Ronald W. Reagan in 1986, was a strong opponent of church-state separation; he was known for his acerbic opinions and combative style. His death means that the high court may deadlock 4-4 over several contentious issues. When that happens, the ruling of the lower court stands, but the decision sets no precedential value.
Americans United issued a statement urging the Senate to move forward with an appointment. AU said it would be unprecedented for the court to be understaffed for nearly a year.
Americans United is also in touch with groups that advocate for filling the slot now.
Look for more details in the April issue of Church & State.