With the death of Justice Scalia, the political landscape in Washington will soon be irrevocably altered. Rather than discussing party politics, it is constructive to look at why court decisions matter:
For more than 200 years, our republic has been governed by the idea that our Constitution limits the power of the executive branch (the President) and the legislative branch (Congress).
We are not a pure democracy where 50% plus one vote can enact any law or policy. We are a representative republic with a constitution that provides a foundation that limits democratic rule. That surprises people at first, but those limitations are our rights.
For example, in a democracy, the majority could decide that people can only own less than 100 acres of land and that all land over 100 acres will be confiscated. That would be a tyranny of the majority. However, our constitution protects the rights of landowners under the "Takings Clause" of the United States Constitution. Land cannot be taken without just compensation, and it must only be taken for a legitimate public purpose.
Our Constitution limits government's regulation of speech, religion, and commerce. It provides that the government cannot enter our homes without a warrant, compel us to testify against ourselves, gives us the right to legal counsel, and prevents the government from punishing citizens in a cruel manner. None of those rights can exist in a pure democracy because the majority can affect its will on any minority.
The legal system is the venue where individuals exercise their rights in the face of potential government overreach. That is why who we nominate and confirm to the highest court matters. Politics notwithstanding, I hope President Obama appoints someone who has the highest regard for the plight of a single citizen over the will of the masses. The concept of individual liberty is what sets the United States of America apart from all other nations.