By stonewalling President Barack Obama's indisputable right to nominate a successor to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans have not only chosen an ugly and spiteful path but are actually practicing lousy political strategy.
The abrupt Feb. 13 passing of Justice Scalia has left the Supreme Court with a vacancy. The former president Ronald Reagan appointee was a bullish keeper of the Republican faith; his death marks the end of an era when American judicial policy was decided by a conservative-leaning court.
Scalia’s body was not even cold when McConnell declared that “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” The Hill reports.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the one who schedules confirmation hearings, has joined McConnell’s position. There will be no hearing, let alone a vote, to replace Scalia. Not while Obama is president.
No one could have predicted Scalia’s death, but instead of accepting the rather unique situation and following the rules laid down by the Constitution, the Senate Republicans are acting as if a two-term president has somehow not earned the right to help shape the highest court in the land.
To justify their obstructionism, McConnell’s crowd has often cited the words of Vice President Joe Biden when he himself served as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Biden suggested that his fellow Democrats not vote in another justice under the George H.W. Bush administration just months before the 1992 election.
Now, this is not a fair comparison. Eleanor Clift, in an op-ed for The Daily Beast, pointed out that Biden was cautioning against then-Justice Harry Blackmun from prematurely retiring — he was speaking hypothetically to avoid an impasse, not creating one after a tragedy.
“Biden didn’t in any way say or imply he wouldn’t be holding hearings, or that he would do what McConnell and the other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are doing, which is sight unseen refusing to hold hearings or to even meet with the nominee,” Clift wrote.
Senate Republicans have invented this “Biden Rule” because there is no precedent for what they are attempting. On Mar. 10, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina admitted as much during a Judiciary Committee session, The Huffington Post reports.
“We are setting a precedent here today… that you’re not going to fill a vacancy of the Supreme Court based on what we’re doing here today,” Graham said. “We’re headed to changing the rules, probably in a permanent fashion.”
McConnell and Grassley have made a grave error in picking this fight; it is not only morally wrong, it is politically toxic.
On Mar. 8, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed that 55 percent of all respondents disapproved Senate Republicans’ refusal to meet with Obama’s potential nominee, with 45 percent strongly disapproving, Daily Kos reports.
In an election year, it is unwise to be engaging in a battle that the majority of voters think you’re on the wrong side of. Especially this election cycle, when the Republican establishment has openly protested the rise of GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
New Republic’s Brian Beutler observed the politically suicidal mission. “Republicans, who desperately want to stop Trump, are now effectively united behind the purpose of letting him shape the Supreme Court for a generation.”
Republicans in Congress have already created the Trump phenomenon by making promises they could not keep to conservative voters. They are gambling that their party, led by a candidate they do not trust, will win the general election. That’s a risky bet where they stand to lose much more than they can gain.
The irony is that Obama’s eventual nominee, expected to be announced on Mar. 16, will likely not be the liberal Boogeyman conservatives are fearing.
The three candidates at the top of Obama’s list are appellate judges Sri Srinivasan and Merrick Garland of Washington D.C. Circuit, and Paul Watford of California, CNN reports.
All three were confirmed into their positions with GOP support because these are consensus candidates. It suits President Obama’s purposes to nominate an ideologically moderate Justice; after the hyper-conservatism of Scalia, a moderate would skew the Supreme Court in a comparatively liberal direction anyway.
Senate Republicans deserve all of the grief headed their way for refusing to meet with the potential candidate. Not only are they harming their party’s credibility at a crucial time, they have chosen to sacrifice so much in pursuit of so little, strategically or ethically.