Column: GOP should let Obama name Scalia’s successor
If conservative senators try to block the nomination, they would actually increase the chances of a liberal victory.
Feb. 16, 2016
The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.
Just when it seemed this month in politics couldn’t get wilder, it did.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) became the first woman and first Latino, respectively, to win the Iowa Caucus. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Donald Trump became the first Jew and first person with no previous political experience, respectively, to win the New Hampshire primary.
Then on Saturday, before February was even halfway over, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep. The court’s conservative majority died with him, leaving the ideology of the court evenly split between liberal and conservative. America barely had time to mourn Scalia before a political fight broke out regarding his succession.
President Barack Obama said he plans to appoint a new justice “in due time.” Article Two of the U.S. Constitution gives the president power to nominate justices, but it also states that the Senate must approve the nomination. Presidents tend to nominate justices whose beliefs align with theirs, and a nomination from the liberal Obama would undoubtedly meet opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. Because there is no deadline for approval, the senators can block a nomination for as long as they please, and with Obama’s term ending in less than a year, they might do just that. They could try to make it impossible for Obama to name Scalia’s successor.
Cruz, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who ran for president against Obama in 2008, are among the Republicans who have said the next president should nominate Scalia’s replacement. Cruz has even vowed to filibuster any nomination from Obama. Republicans have said that, with the election coming up, the American people should indirectly choose the new justice via their choice for president. What they really mean is that the Senate should delay confirming a nomination in case the next president is a Republican, which could restore the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.
However, an ideological majority doesn’t guarantee that every decision will adhere to that ideology. Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage last June, was a 5-4 decision despite the Supreme Court’s conservative majority. Justice Anthony Kennedy was the conservative who sided with the liberals, something he has done before. This factor would make the court’s decisions even more likely to swing to the left if Scalia’s replacement is liberal.
If conservatives try to block Obama’s nominee, they would actually increase the chances of a liberal victory, which could manifest itself in three possible scenarios.
First, the Senate has never taken more than 125 days to confirm a nomination before, and Obama’s term ends in 338 days, almost a year from now. Leaving a justice seat vacant for that long could lead to a split decision on the cases currently facing the Supreme Court. These cases include affirmative action, labor unions, immigration, abortion and other divisive political issues. A 4-4 split would uphold the decisions of the lower federal courts, which would, thanks to Democratic appointments to these courts in 2015, favor liberals.
Second, Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), want Obama to nominate someone the GOP would normally support but would currently oppose just because they want the next president to make the nomination. If this happens, it would weaken the Republican senators’ claims of bipartisan governing and cast the GOP in a dim light, giving the Democrats a boost during an election year.
Finally, if the Senate manages to prevent a Supreme Court appointment and a Democrat is elected president in November, the Republicans’ efforts will have been for naught, and they will have embarrassed themselves. Even if a Republican becomes president, the first two scenarios could happen within the next 338 days.
The Republican senators should allow Obama to nominate Scalia’s successor instead of wasting their time trying to keep a liberal appointee out of the Supreme Court. Fighting a nomination could do their party more harm than good.