Alex Robledo, Georgetown University:
Two weeks ago, the sudden passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia shocked the nation. He was a divisive figure, to be sure. Known for his scathing dissents from the bench, Scalia was both loved and loathed for his tendency to never mince words. But even as a fiery defender of Originalism and a reliable conservative on the bench, Americans of all political persuasions recognize that the Court—and the nation—has lost one of the greatest legal scholars of this generation. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Scalia’s chief ideological opponent on the Court, has stated she is mourning the loss of her “best buddy.”
Yet despite the significance of his passing, I am appalled by how quickly Scalia’s passing has become a political football to suit partisan ends. Even more lamentable is the fact that the majority of the rhetoric I find appalling is coming from my own party, the GOP.
No more than an hour after the news hit the airwaves, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) released a statement declaring that he will block any and all nominations put forward by President Obama. Later that evening, all of the Republican presidential candidates lined up behind McConnell, declaring their opposition to any and all nominees put forward by the president. In the days since, the Republican opposition to any attempt to fill the Supreme Court vacancy has only strengthened, culminating with the Senate Judiciary Committee leadership declaring this past Tuesday that it would neither grant review nor give a hearing to any person offered by the president. Mind you, the president hasn’t even named a nominee yet.
What on earth is going on here? There is still a country to be governed; there is still a Constitution to be upheld. It bewilders me that, as a party, we have chosen to disregard the constitutional duties of the Presidency and the Senate with respect to Supreme Court vacancies. It dumbfounds me that we, as a party, have decided that under no circumstances will the Senate uphold its responsibility to give the President’s Supreme Court nominee a fair hearing. It is one thing to reject individual nominees because you deem them to be unqualified to serve on the Court. It is an entirely different matter to argue that no nominee should be considered—especially when, thus far, no specific individuals have even been nominated. This kind of blatant partisanship is wrong when the Democrats do it, and it’s just as wrong when we do it.
I understand that there is an election coming up. I get there is a chance that maybe—maybe—a Republican will be our next president come January 20, 2017. However, the Constitution is not suddenly suspended when the other party’s time in the White House is almost up. Supreme Court nominees have been considered in election years throughout our nation’s history. Not all were confirmed, but many of them were, even by president’s opposing party. Nevertheless, in all of those other instances the constitutional process was allowed to play out. The president did his job of nominating a justice, and the Senate did theirs by vetting them and then voting up or down. That is what is supposed to happen, not this display of tribalism unfolding in Congress.
The debate we should have is this one: once President Obama announces his nominee, is that person fit to be a justice for our nation’s highest court? Does this person understand the law, and will this person protect the integrity of the Constitution? Of course, these questions are subjective, and it is perfectly okay for us to disagree with our Democratic counterparts. But when we refuse to participate altogether, not only is our credibility damaged, but it plays right into the Democratic narrative of Republican obstructionism. In an election year as hotly contested as this one, it amounts to free ammunition for Democrats on the campaign trail. Why are we trying to shoot ourselves in the foot?
Fortunately, the GOP has a handful of leaders who are still willing to objectively govern. Sens. Thom Thillis (R-NC), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have all gone on record stating that the Senate must do its job in considering the President’s nominee. It’s good to hear that there is still a trace of leadership within the GOP, especially when the temptation to succumb to political expediency is all too great. However, three senators unfortunately do not make up for an entire political party. We can, and must, do better.
I realize this is not the popular opinion within the GOP. I realize I may be called a RINO or a closet liberal secretly working with the Democrats because of my view on this issue. If having the courage to call out my own party for being in the wrong makes me a RINO then so be it. I refuse to sit idly by while the Republican Party substitutes leadership and governance for petty partisanship. The Republican Party has a responsibility, both to its constituents and to the Constitution, to govern this country. Election year or not, that responsibility does not change. Pledging to obstruct the president’s nominations, a duty vested in the president by the Constitution, is a failure to uphold that responsibility.