The news that recently came out of the United States was that one of its Supreme Court Justices, Antonin Scalia, died on February 13 of natural causes in a West Texas ranch.
Appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in 1986 by then president Ronald Reagan, Scalia has had a reputation as being solidly ultra-conservative, along with fellow SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas. He is one of those who, in 2015, voted against marriage equality for same-sex marriages.
Justice Scalia’s death has prompted quite a bit of a reaction from the legal and political realm within the United States. Much of it focuses on the nomination of his replacement, a constitutional duty which now falls to outgoing president Barack Obama.
Republicans contend that the next president should be the one to nominate Scalia’s replacement. Through a few official statements from some of them, the sentiment is that they will do everything they can to block any nominations that president Obama, a Democrat, will attempt to make. One such example is from US Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R,Ky):
“Today our country lost an unwavering champion of a timeless document that unites each of us as Americans. Justice Scalia’s fidelity to the Constitution was rivaled only by the love of his family: his wife Maureen his nine children, and his many grandchildren. Through the sheer force of his intellect and his legendary wit, this giant of American jurisprudence almost singlehandedly revived an approach to constitutional interpretation that prioritized the text and original meaning of the Constitution. Elaine and I send our deepest condolences to the entire Scalia family.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”
Quite a few comments left on his Facebook page expressed disagreement with him, with the gist of it including the following:
“McConnell is an obstructionist”. “The president should be allowed to fulfill his constitutional duty”. “Such a statement is partisan politics at its finest”. “It is implied that the filling of the vacancy should be postponed in the hopes that a Republican president will emerge”. “The people chose Obama to be president in 2010, and McConnell does not seemingly recognize such”.
President Obama, for his part, is determined to fulfill his constitutional duty as president. We must take note that the next US national elections are on November 2016, about 7 months from now. Obama contends that this is ample time to make nominations, and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility in evaluating his nominee/s. However, for a nominee to pass, it requires 60 out of the 100 votes in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Why should Filipinos be bothered to read or learn about the goings-on in American political circles? Well, the controversy that usually surrounds Supreme Court (SC) appointments, especially those that are made during election years, should be familiar to Filipinos.
Recall how in 2010, then outgoing president Gloria Arroyo copped a lot of flak for nominating then SC Associate Justice Renato Corona to Chief Justice (CJ) too close to the elections that year. There is supposedly a ban on appointments two months before elections. Corona was nominated as one of the possible nominees to replace outgoing CJ Reynato Puno. Despite the Philippine Judicial Bar Council (JBC) opening the nominations, and the SC ultimately dismissing petitions to stop the nomination and appointment of a replacement CJ, current president Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III resurrected the issue, and made a big fuss about it, during the first two years of his term. Corona was eventually impeached in 2012.
Recall also, that during his term, BS Aquino has had to make his own appointments to the SC. Maria Lourdes Sereno, whose qualifications and psychological fitness have been questioned, was appointed as Corona’s replacement. Marvic Leonen was appointed to the seat vacated by Sereno, with many suspecting that it was for his work in the “peace negotiations” with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which led to a controversial framework agreement and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). And just at the start of this year, 2016, BS Aquino appointed former Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa to replace retiring SC Justice Martin Villarama, Jr.
2016 happens to be an election year for the Philippines as well. Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao filed a report stating that the retirement of Villarama comes under questionable circumstances. Villarama was slated to retire on April 24, 2016, but opted to do so earlier. Although Villarama cited “deteriorating health” for his early retirement, it was allegedly under the convincing of Aquino political adviser Ronaldo Llamas. BS Aquino most likely wanted to avoid the situation of appointing Justices too close to the elections, and to pack the SC with his nominees as early as possible.
The key points to highlight are the following:
At the very least, some of the American electorate recognize the need for, and importance of, a fully-functional Supreme Court, (i.e, no vacancies) and are willing to stand up for it. The Filipino electorate, on the other hand, generally just do not seem to care, or are letting the politicians do the thinking for them. The very same politicians they keep complaining about.
Isn’t it but natural for a president to appoint a Justice with similar political or ideological leanings? Whether it is here or in the US this observation seems to hold true. Whether it is right or not is another issue entirely. Don’t we, in our daily lives, naturally gravitate towards people who mirror our own beliefs and perceptions anyway? Doesn’t like attract like when it comes to social interactions?
Therefore, BS Aquino has come out looking like a hypocrite. Not that he or his followers care anyway. He is simply being consistent; anything that Arroyo did smacked of politics and of stacking the odds to her favor and is corrupt, period. If BS Aquino does the same thing, it is with “good intentions”, it is for the sake of Daang Matuwid (Straight Path), and must not be questioned, because he is “not corrupt”. Gloria Arroyo’s continued detention seems to be, to this day, the only thing lending any sense of legitimacy to BS Aquino’s remaining administration. Never mind that the cases against her so far have all been dismissed.
And for that, BS Aquino has been no different from that of presidents past. In some cases, worse. Too bad Filipinos fell for that rhetoric of change six years ago. Whether they’ll be able to learn in the upcoming elections remains to be seen.
Currently, the SC is involved in the hearings regarding the disqualification of Grace Poe-Llamanzares as a presidential candidate. Rumors abound that Grace Poe is BS Aquino’s Plan B to stay out of jail; his primary manok, Mar Roxas, has been lagging in the surveys consistently. Of course BS Aquino would like to stay out of jail after he steps down; it would not be surprising if his political enemies are only too eager to file cases against him once his immunity from suit ceases.
Analysts, observers, and critics of the SC note that how it rules on Grace Poe’s disqualification is going to be an indication of its independence and competence. Will it stay faithful to and defend the constitution? Will it put political considerations first, especially those from the appointing president? What will the effect of the ruling be on the upcoming elections?
As always, stay tuned for the next show, the next stop in the tour, the next chapter, whatever you want to call it…
[Display image courtesy: architecture.about.com]
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