Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died of a heart attack Saturday, and Republican senators wasted no time in letting the U.S. know that they would block any attempt by President Barack Obama to nominate a new justice.
The Republicans, who have enjoyed a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for nearly 40 years – according to a 2012 study from Georgetown University – are terrified at the prospect of facing a liberal court. They’re convinced that they’ll win the general election, pretty much no matter who they nominate. They’re counting on misogyny to defeat Hillary Clinton and America’s aversion to socialism to sink Bernie Sanders. They’re counting on keeping their majority in the House and the Senate, and they’re counting on being able to ram through whatever anti-abortion, anti-planned parenthood, anti-gay rights legislation they please.
If Obama, who is in the last 11 months of his presidency, appoints a liberal justice to the Supreme Court, the conservative majority that the Republicans have enjoyed for so long will be lost, and there’s a good chance that much of their legislation, particularly attempts to limit access to abortions, will be overturned by the Supreme Court. Since the Republicans campaign so heavily on the “pro-life” platform, they stand to lose a lot of ground in subsequent midterm elections if they can’t deliver on their promises and the evangelicals and hard-core conservatives become disenchanted with the political process.
The morbid hilarity in all this, of course, is that Scalia himself believed that the Constitution should be interpreted exactly as the Founding Fathers intended it more than 200 years ago. Scalia didn’t believe that abortion should be ruled a right by the Supreme Court, since the Constitution does not specifically mention it. He believed the same thing about gay marriage. And it’s written nowhere in the Constitution that a president in the last year of his presidency cannot appoint a justice to the Supreme Court. The letter of the Constitution simply states that the president shall appoint judges to the Supreme Court with the advice and consent of the Senate.
Scalia himself also confessed to David Axelrod, current CNN political correspondent and former senior adviser to Obama, that he wanted Obama to appoint Elena Kagan, his ideological opposite. According to Axelrod, Scalia preferred to have someone intelligent with whom he could engage.
Furthermore, the unofficial rule that the Senate Republicans are citing, known as the Strom Thurmond Rule, is that a president in his last six months of office cannot make lifetime appointments. Obama won’t be in his last six months until July 20, which is five months from now. The longest it has ever taken for a Supreme Court Justice to be confirmed by the Senate was 125 days, or a little more than four months.
Finally, current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell himself opposed the Democrats’ citation of the Strom Thurmond Rule back in 2008, when Justice David Souter was speculating about retiring, McConnell was Senate Minority Leader and George W. Bush was in his final six months of office. Fortunately for the Republicans, Souter didn’t officially submit his resignation to the president until April 2009, and the Senate Republicans never had to go on the legislative record in opposition to the Strom Thurmond Rule.
It’s an outrageous and shameful perversion of our country’s system of checks and balances for the Senate Republicans to block Obama’s nomination because they want to wait to fill the vacancy when the president’s ideology aligns with their own. The American people have to take a stand at some point, before our nation completely dissolves into a noxious, partisan pool of political slime. We have to do something about the regressive, petulant and, frankly, childlike nature of our politicians, both nationally and locally. If we don’t start holding politicians accountable and start voting with our frontal cortex instead of our amygdala, the damage may soon be irreversible.