Before discussing the issue at hand, I deem it important to acknowledge the death of an American political icon. Justice Antonin Scalia was appointed back in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan and has been the embodiment of the Republican Party ever since. Scalia firmly backed the Constitution in every one of his decisions, a true originalist. On February 12th, Justice Scalia died at his ranch in Texas. Reverend Paul Scalia, one of Antonin’s nine children, gave a rather touching eulogy of his father that seemed to put politics aside, even if it was ever so briefly. This country lost an incredibly intelligent, outstanding American; whether you agreed with every word of his fiery dissents or despised every ruling he made.
But as so many things in today’s day and age, the issue quickly became political. It seemed within minutes of the news, both major political parties had picked their partisan stances and were already unwilling to cooperate with one another. The Republicans believe that since President Obama is a lame duck president, that is a president with his days numbered as the leader of the free world, he should not be allowed to pick Scalia’s successor. The Democrats, in retaliation to their opposition, declared that Obama should absolutely appoint the next Judge, for that is one of his constitutional duties as President.
The reason this next appointee is so vital is due to the political status of the Supreme Court at this very moment. Before Scalia’s passing, the nine judges all seemingly balanced each other out. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan comprised the liberal side of the court while Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito along with Scalia were the conservative voices. Justice Anthony Kennedy is viewed as the moderate and would usually be the deciding vote in highly polarized cases. Now that there is an empty seat, President Obama would, in all likelihood, like to fill it with a very liberal appointee, which in turn would result in very progressive decisions from the Court for a long period of time.
This story takes another surprising turn, however; because as of right now the Republicans control the Senate. After President Obama appoints a supreme court justice, the Senate needs to uphold his decision for it to be official. Seemingly minutes after the news of Scalia’s passing, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, came out and said that the Senate would not confirm any judge appointed by President Obama. The beauty of American politics these days; a complete ineptness, or even willingness, to work with members of the opposite party.
My favorite part about this story is that the Republicans did not waste any time to reject anyone the President could appoint. Scalia had not been buried by the time McConnell announced the Senate would not approve any Obama-appointed nominee. That sounds like pretty blatant obstructionism to me, especially considering the party bases their platform off a love for the Constitution. The Constitution explicitly states, “The President…shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law…” (Article II Section 2 Clause 2).
I understand that Republicans do not want a liberal dominated bench, and I do believe that balance in the Supreme Court (along with through all of American politics) is very important. I acknowledge that the piece of the Constitution quoted above describes an appointee derived from the ideas of the President and Senate together. I am not arguing that whomever President Obama appoints should automatically get the nomination. The issue I take up with this whole matter is the new level of political discourse we have now reached in this country.
When Mitch McConnell made his announcement, we reached a new low in America, namely a blatant and visible inability to work together in government. If President Obama tried to nominate ten different people for the Supreme Court spot, and the process went to the Senate and the Senate ended up rejecting every single one, I could begrudgingly accept that. I can accept the normal discord that our Constitution sets up for our government, after all that is a major part of what made this country so great. Civil discord within the walls of the Capitol, the White House, or the Supreme Court is something to be admired, when you think about it. The fact that Americans can respectfully disagree without trying to reinstate a new government, or break off into different nations is truly remarkable. But the divide that this issue brings about is truly disturbing. It emphasizes our worst fears as citizens, that our government cannot work together, that we are too polarized.
That is why I am absolutely livid with the stance the Republicans have taken on this issue. Not to mention that Obama has only just begun his eighth year as President. Is he supposed to not fulfill any of his other duties for this year either? Should politicians even bother going to their offices if it is already known that no progress will be made? What is the point if the Republican party has outwardly displayed their contempt and unwillingness to work with the Democrats?
It is truly deplorable, I am sickened by the state of political affairs today. The funny thing is that Justice Scalia would probably not agree with whomever Obama appoints to fulfill his spot, but you know what? He knows it is unconstitutional to not allow the President the opportunity for an entire year.