The decision of Texas public officials not to perform an autopsy on the body of the late Justice Antonin Scalia is imprudent.
First, one should realize autopsies are unpleasant for the novice observer, and unpleasant for survivors of the deceased. I have not witnessed an autopsy in person, but have read quite a few autopsy reports, primarily during work on appeals of homicide convictions. A “Y” is cut into the thorax of the body, the organs examined, and photographs taken. The skull “cap” usually is removed and the brain weighed. Samples of fluids from the body are analyzed. Given these unpleasant aspects of the procedure, one can understand how most people’s loved ones would be averse to the subjection of the remains of a deceased family member to the Stryker® saw of the coroner of a remote county in Texas.
The body in question here, though, is that of a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Questions have been raised as to Justice Scalia’s cause of death.
If a person is a high-ranking government official—and I reasonably believe the Justice of the United States Supreme Court qualifies as such an official—in the event of the death of that person while in office, an autopsy should standard procedure. The Washington Post has reported Justice Scalia’s body was found with a pillow over the late Justice’s head.
Justice Scalia was 79 years old. He was not a “spring chicken.” Nonetheless, given his position, the political ramifications of his death, and even the slightest indicia of foul play, the decision, as I understand made by a Justice of the Peace, was inappropriate. That decision now will pop up in debate over Justice Scalia’s replacement for the next few months and on internet blogs for the next few decades (or until AI computers take over our society).
As this blog is written, the decision has been not to perform an autopsy. I hope that decision is reversed.
Also, a brief note on history: Andrew Jackson’s people successfully blocked the appointment, by President John Quincy Adams, of John J. Crittenden to the United States Supreme Court. There were ideological reasons for the “block,” as Jackson’s populist policies were at odds with the views and actions of Adams. There also were personal reasons for Jackson’s reaction to anything done by Adams. However, Adams nominated Crittenden “on December 17, 1828, after the the Electoral College had formally chosen Andrew Jackson to succeed Adams as President.” riceonhistory.wordpress.com. The vacancy on the Court had existed since Justice Robert Trimble’s death on August 25, 1828. The circumstances in that case are substantively different from the present circumstances, where we are a few days less than nine (9) months from the presidential election and a little under a year away from inauguration.
I pose one final question. Why did candidates Ben Carson and Donald Trump in the Republican debate on Saturday insist on referring to Justice Scalia as “Judge” Scalia. Antonin Scalia was a judicial officer, but of the highest Court in our system. His formal title was Justice.