The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has created political rancor, the opportunity for some to throw batsh*t conspiracy theories at the internet, and a shorthanded Supreme Court in need of a new judge (though, it is, of course, theoretically capable of functioning with an ideologically divided even number).
The way that kind of vacancy is typically dealt with involves a nomination from the sitting President. That nominee then makes the rounds through the legislature meeting and greeting and having tiny sandwiches with people wearing tiny flag pins. Then, they go through an ugly confirmation process until the inevitable vote. It’s charming, really.
In the midst of primary season, however, the war drums are beating and everything needs to be a thing, so members of the Republican majority and those quarreling for the GOP Presidential nomination have openly condemned the idea that President Obama might do what a President is supposed to when there is a vacancy on the high court. And on Tuesday, they put their objection in writing with a vow from the Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee that they will not hold confirmation hearings, will not set up a vote, and will not have cordial get-to-know-you meetings with any fresh nominee until after Obama is out of office. And yes, no meetings means no tiny sandwiches. These people are serious.
By way of The New York Times, here’s an excerpt from the letter, which is signed by, among others, prospective GOP nominee and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Given the particular circumstances under which this vacancy arises, we wish to inform you of our intention to exercise our constitutional authority to withhold consent on any nominee to the Supreme Court submitted by this President to fill Justice Scalia’s vacancy. Because our decision is based on constitutional principle and born of a necessity to protect the will of the American people, this Committee will not hold any hearings on any Supreme Court nominee until our next President is sworn in on January 20, 2017.
So, game over? Possibly. The Republican majority can’t be compelled to hold a vote for the President’s nominee, but they can be shamed and finger wagged at while Democrats hope that people are down to get worked up over judicial appointment obstructionism, pushing the majority into submission and this issue into the election. Trouble is, that’s a great big wish-upon-a-star kind of hope considering the unsexiness of said issue, the flood of other issues, and our easily distracted nature as an electorate. Not to mention the value of this stance to Republicans with their base.
At the apex point of this outrage, though, I’m compelled to examine these specific words from the letter: “protect the will of the American people.” Were Obama not the elected President, as was the case when Gerald Ford ascended to the Vice President’s office from Congress to replace Spiro Agnew before taking over for Richard Nixon, there might be some kind of moral high ground. Same as if Obama were in the process of an impeachment trial. But, generally speaking, when people vote for a President, they do so with the understanding that they’re going to perform all duties that come with that office for that whole four-year term. Thus, “the will” of the people is best protected by the elected President making the choice (and that’s backed up by opinion polling), same as he would with any other choice that were to land on his desk from now until the next President is sworn in.
None of that matters, though. Once upon a time, then-Senator Joe Biden made a remark about the first President Bush making appointments as a lame duck and Democratic minority leader Harry Reid made comments about not needing to vote on the second President Bush’s nominees back in 2005. So, they started it. I guess.
The natural rhythm of our political process indicates that Democrats will probably respond in kind next time they’re in the majority and so on and so forth — that’s just the way it is.
In the meantime, the rancor will grow like a throbbing tumor, spreading its malignancy into our daily lives. Check out some of the remarks already made by those at the center of this storm:
“I’m anxious to meet that person [Obama’s eventual nominee] and every time that nominee comes to the Capitol, I’m going to watch to see if Sen. McConnell and Republicans run for cover, for fear that they’re going to get photographs taken with the nominee that they rejected without even meeting […]
Things are going to be rough around here for a while,” – Democratic Senator Dick Durbin speaking to The Daily Beast.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke on the Senate floor and threw out his own shots, letting it be known that President Obama, “has every right to nominate someone, […] Even if doing so will inevitably plunge our nation into another bitter and avoidable struggle, that is his right. Even if he never expects that nominee to actually be confirmed but rather to wield as an electoral cudgel, that is his right. […] But he has also has the right to make a different choice. He can let the people decide and make this an actual legacy-building moment rather than just another campaign roadshow.”
This whole thing is incredibly exhausting, isn’t it? Too bad we’re so addicted to voting for incumbents.