Could the United States really be facing the impeachment of a Supreme Court justice? Antonin Scalia has unintentionally backed himself into a corner by writing an opinion on an environmental ruling this week in which he misrepresented one of his own earlier opinions. There was no immediate material damage done, as he was writing the dissenting opinion and he was outvoted on the issue by his high court colleagues. But Scalia went on to use inflammatory language accusing his colleagues of overlooking their Constitutional duty in the ruling – and now it turns out he ‘s the one who goofed.
Scalia may be the most divisive current member of the United States Supreme Court, but he’s mainly made enemies by consistently ruling in favor of the conservative side of political and social issues. The nation has a long history of not attempting to impeach justices simply because they ruled in one way or another on any given issue. Impeachment would require misconduct, law breaking, or overwhelming incompetence. The latter has been used from time to time to remove lower court judges who couldn’t competently perform the job. The question now is whether Scalia’s gaffe rises to that level.
There is essentially zero chance that President Barack Obama would attempt to impeach Scalia, as such a move would be viewed as overtly political regardless of circumstances; Scalia has ruled against Obama’s agenda at almost every turn. But issuing a dissenting opinion in which he more or less misquoted himself is rarefied air when it comes to Supreme Court errors. Scalia is two years away from turning eighty years old, and if errors like this become commonplace, one has to wonder whether the next President might be faced with the tough task of deciding whether to try to force Scalia from the court, either through outright impeachment or through more subtle behind the scenes methods.