White House press secretary Josh Earnest suggested in a press briefing April 14 that a Democratic-dominated Senate would be 'justified' in obstructing a future Republican president's Supreme Court nominee for the entirety of the president's term. These comments raised many eyebrows and even prompted questions as to whether Earnest was threatening a future Republican president with obstruction, ABC reports.
Given the historical rancor within the current Republican-dominated Senate regarding the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, there may be grounds to think that if the roles are reversed in the future, Senate Democrats will treat the GOP's nominee just as contemptuously as the GOP Senate is treating Garland's nomination.
But if the point is to show voters that the current Republican Party is a radical, obstructionist force which despises the normal workings of a functional government, then the urge should be resisted. In the event that Democrats regain the Senate while the GOP takes the presidency and retains the House, then Democrats will be able to gain political leverage over the GOP by not blocking an agreeable, center-right nominee to the Court and showing that they are open to compromise -- while the GOP is not.
But in such a scenario, the GOP president will be forced to compromise with a Democratic Senate, regardless of the protestations from the base that whichever nominee receives a hearing will not be conservative enough. President Barrack Obama has faced similar complaints on the Left about his nomination of Garland, so if a GOP president does end up choosing a far-right firebrand as a Supreme Court nominee, Senate Democrats would do well to point out the obvious double standard.
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The current opposition to Garland -- and anyone else who could potentially be nominated by President Obama -- is rather unprecedented, according to Politifact. Even though Republicans have accused Democrats of making similar political plays in the past, there is absolutely nothing comparable to Mitch McConnell's statement, said within hours of Justice Antonin Scalia's death, that no nominees would even be considered this year.
The Democrats were responsible for Robert Bork's failed nomination in 1987 which changed the tenor of Supreme Court nominations and made them more explicitly partisan, but since then the only thing of note is when then-Sen. Barack Obama tried to filibuster Samuel Alito's nomination in 2006. As Lauren Carroll of Politifact points out, this was a largely symbolic filibuster which ended up being completely inconsequential in the course of Alito's nomination. The Garland nomination, on the other hand, is being treated as a matter of life or death by McConnell and other GOP elites.
Democrats should not step into the GOP's shoes by becoming obstructionists on every issue of governance. That's the wrong approach to take, and taking the correct approach instead will display to voters just how much of a historical aberration and albatross the modern Republican Party truly is.