Political Armageddon is upon us
On July 2, 2014 I ran an iPinion column titled, “Igniting a mushroom cloud in your head” about what would happen if President Obama had the chance to shift the balance of power on the Supreme Court. I wrote, “Should a conservative justice step down or die, the balance of this court will shift from 5-4 conservative to 5-4 progressive. This would trigger the mother of all political battles.
Today’s Republican Party would never allow that shift to happen…
They could stall to try to ride out Obama’s term in hopes a Republican President would be elected in 2016. Sounds far-fetched? This is the group that threatened to let the U.S. default.”
With the unexpected death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia the day that I feared is here. Already, almost before Scalia’s body was cold, conservative Republicans have said they’re not planning to fulfill their constitutional duty in voting on a replacement.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.” What? Here’s some news for Mitch McConnell. The American people have had their say. They elected a president. The President of the United States is Barack Obama. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t vote for him, don’t like him or don’t like his policies. He is the president.
They’ve elected a Senate, which has the constitutional responsibility to advise and consent the President’s nominee. Most framers of the Constitution believed that the president selects the nominee without input from the Senate and it’s up to the Senate to vote on the nominee. And we expect everyone to do their job. Traditionally, the president in power gets his or her nominee.
Of the more than 150 people nominated to the Supreme Court only 12 have been rejected. Others have stepped down but only a dozen have been voted down. When we elect presidents we know we’re electing the person who will choose Supreme Court justices. It’s what all voters should factor into their decisions.
To come out and say that the President, who has over ten months left in office, should abdicate that responsibility is ridiculous. Should all presidents simply stop doing their jobs their last year in office? Of course not.
Supreme Court watcher Jeffrey Toobin tweeted to keep an eye on DC Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan. Before he was a judge he was Principal Deputy Solicitor General and argued over twenty cases before the Supreme Court. The key point is that he was confirmed as a judge on a 97-0 vote. Senator Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz voted to confirm Srinivasan. Will they suddenly turn against him and play politics if he’s the nominee?
Count on it. We know what we’re seeing here. There’s no chance this Republican Senate will approve President Obama’s choice. They want to run out the clock in the hopes that a Republican will be elected to hold the conservative balance of the court.
The last time this happened we didn’t do this. Nominees have been approved in election years before. Though Justice Kennedy was nominated on November 30, 1987 by Ronald Reagan, he was confirmed in February of 1988, an election year. No one was arguing that we should wait until after the election that year for the next president to fill the vacancy.
This fight is one that I’ve written several columns about because I’ve viewed it as the mother of all political battles. It has the potential to further fray the bonds of our democracy. The conservative movement has long targeted the courts, knowing that lifetime appointments have the effect of keeping the country in a rightward tilt even during Democratic presidencies and Congresses.
What happens when the Republican Senate filibusters the president’s nominee and Hillary Clinton wins the White House? Does anyone believe that a Republican Senate would ever allow the balance of power to shift on the Supreme Court? Any Republican Senator voting for that to happen will surely be primaried and lose their seat. It sounds crazy but why wouldn’t they continue to filibuster nominees in perpetuity?
But there’s no guarantee the Senate stays in Republican hands. So what if a Republican wins the presidency in November and the Democrats take the Senate? What happens when that Republican president selects a replacement for Scalia and the Democrats repay the Republicans by simply filibustering that choice?
Do we just have a 4-4 Supreme Court? Do we cripple the third branch of government so there’s no longer checks and balances? Does ideology and political parties, something many founding fathers were against, finally destroy the republic?
The stakes for the 2016 presidential and congressional races are higher than ever. Judging by the cage match Republican debate Saturday night in South Carolina our politics is descending into further into the gutter.
This fight may be a defining battle in the history of the United States. From foolish military interventions, disputed presidential races, debt mismanagement and the inability of our two parties to find common ground, we’re a nation in decline. We haven’t been the united states in a long time as we demonstrate we no longer know how to govern ourselves. Sadly the scars from this Supreme Court fight may never heal as our nation limps to irrelevance on the world stage.