Let’s understand something about the fight to fill the Supreme Court seat of Antonin (“Nino”) Scalia. This is about nothing but raw power.
In Year Seven of the George W. Bush administration, Sen. Chuck Schumer publicly opposed filling any Supreme Court vacancy until Bush left office. (“Except in extraordinary circumstances.” None such arose.) Today he piously denounces Republicans for doing exactly the same for a vacancy created in Year Eight of Barack Obama.
Republicans owe the president deference, Democrats say. Elections have consequences and Obama won re-election in 2012.
Yes. And the Republicans won the Senate in 2014. Both have equal standing in appointing a Supreme Court justice.
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It’s hard to swallow demands for deference from a party that has cheered Obama’s constitutional depredations.
Minority Leader Harry Reid complains about the Senate violating precedent if it refuses a lame-duck nominee. But two years ago, Reid overthrew all precedent by abolishing the filibuster for most judicial and high executive appointments. He did it in order to pack the U. S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia with liberals who would reliably deflect challenges to Obamacare.
On Tuesday, Obama called upon Congress to rise above ideology and partisanship in approving his nominee. When asked how he could square that with his 2006 support of a filibuster to stop the appointment of Samuel Alito, Obama replied with a four-minute word salad signifying nothing.
As I said, this is about raw power. When the Democrats had it, they used it. The Republicans are justified in saying they will not allow this outgoing president to overturn the balance of the Supreme Court.
This is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s moment. He and his cohorts have taken a lot of abuse from “anti-establishment” candidates and media for not using their congressional majorities to repeal Obamacare, defund Planned Parenthood, etc.
What was the 2014 election about, they say? We won and got nothing. We were lied to and betrayed by a corrupt leadership beholden to the “Washington cartel.”
As it happens, under the Constitution, the opposition party cannot govern without the acquiescence of the president, which it will not get, or a two-thirds majority of the Congress, which it does not have.
But no matter. Things are different now. Appointing a Supreme Court justice is a two-key operation. The president proposes, the Senate disposes. There is no reason McConnell cannot hold the line. And he must. The stakes here – a generation-long reversal of direction of the Supreme Court – are the highest this Senate will ever face.
If McConnell succeeds, he will resoundingly answer the “what did we get for 2014?” question. What we got in 2014 was the power to hold on to the court’s conservative majority.
But blocking an Obama nominee buys just a year. The final outcome depends on November 2016. If the GOP nominates an unelectable or unconservative candidate, a McConnell victory will only be a stay of execution.
In 2012, Scalia averred that he would not retire until there was a more ideologically congenial president in the White House. “I would not like to be replaced,” he explained, “by someone who immediately sets about undoing everything that I’ve tried to do for 25 years.”
Scalia never got to choose the timing of his leaving office. Those who value his legacy will determine whether his last wish will be vindicated. Let McConnell do his thing. Then in November it’s for us to win one for Nino.