Op-Ed, 564 words

What’s at Stake with the Supreme Court

Will Republicans let partisan rancor and petty politics damage it?

Marge Baker

Nearly every issue that matters to the American people eventually finds its way before the Supreme Court.

Whether it’s access to health care, the right of women to make personal medical decisions, the ability of workers to defend themselves against discrimination, or simply having access to the voting booth, it’s difficult to look at any part of our lives and not find evidence for the importance of our nation’s highest court.

But even that list of challenges doesn’t convey the total importance of filling the seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. With Republican senators threatening to block any replacement put forward by President Barack Obama, the integrity of our political system is also at stake.



What happens next will shed light on whether our political process is so broken that one party can ignore the plain language of our Constitution — which entrusts nominations to the president, in every year of his or her term — and do serious harm to our federal courts, all to score political points against a president they don’t like and tilt the Supreme Court towards the decisions they prefer.

The Constitution is clear about how we should handle vacancies on the Supreme Court. Article II, Section 2 says that the president shall “with the advice and consent of the Senate” name a new justice. That’s pretty simple, right?

Yet within minutes of media reports of Scalia’s passing, Senate Republicans, led by presidential candidate Ted Cruz, announced that they wouldn’t even consider anyone Obama might nominate. It didn’t take long for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to say the same, and for senators like Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to line up behind him.

Their refusal to fulfill their constitutional obligation is, to put it kindly, breathtaking. Over the past three decades, the longest confirmation process took 99 days. The last four justices, spanning two administrations, were confirmed in an average of 75 days. There are more than 300 days left before the end of the Obama administration.

If Congress fails to act, the Supreme Court will go two terms — well over a year — with a vacancy. Since the 1980s, Congress has almost never left a vacancy during a Supreme Court session.

But more important than the numbers is the idea that the Supreme Court — an institution Americans have traditionally thought of as operating above politics, where ordinary individuals are supposed to get the same shot at justice as enormous corporations or powerful special interests — is just another political pawn that Republicans can hold hostage.

Obama has said that despite the threats, he intends to nominate someone to fill Scalia’s seat. And already a few conservatives are rejecting the GOP’s partisan attacks on the Supreme Court. Senator Susan Collins of Maine and former Attorney Alberto Gonzales have made clear that the Senate should evaluate a nominee based on his or her merits.

Are Republican leaders willing to put partisanship aside, to honor our Constitution and give President Obama’s nominee fair consideration? Or will they let partisan rancor and petty politics damage our nation’s highest court?

There’s a lot at stake with pending Supreme Court cases. But the question of whether Republicans are willing to fulfill their constitutional obligations may be the biggest question of all.

Marge Baker is the executive vice president of People For the American Way. PFAW.org
Distributed by OtherWords.org

  • DFinMOzarks

    I think that the answer is YES. The GOP is being damaged by their extreme right wing and will continue to be dragged down by them. Guys like Rubio – who started out his short first term in the senate leaning moderately quickly abandoned any semblance to that after they started courting the radicals who they need to court to win in the primaries. That’s why as good a record as he has and as good a leader as he is, Kasich won’t win.

    Rubio went from being a leader of the senate ‘gang of 8’ that pushed hard for some honest and needed immigration reforms to being an outspoken opponent of his own bill after being painted with brazen lies by the other candidates as being for another amnesty. Nearly all of the GOP candidates don’t seem to understand that the zany positions they take which apparently are required to make noise and capture attention in a crowded GOP field of candidates will not fly in a general election. They are caught in a ‘catch 22’ trap where they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. McCain and then Romney were it’s most recent victims and it appears that either Trump or Cruz will be the next to fall.

    The nuts that make up the tea bagger faction of the conservatives demand this attention and these concessions in the primaries – then they condemn the mainstream conservatives when congress ends up being throttled by the radicals and no work gets done. It’s a lose lose situation that will only be resolved when the party gets a leader that will tell them the truth and explain why their radical demands will lead nowhere …except the way of the Whigs.

    The answer to the last part of the question your column asks is in my humble view NO. The GOP has fallen on their sword and they will out of hatred of the current president continue to stab themselves by ignoring their constitutional obligation of advice and consent. If you can believe their hot blooded rhetoric, they will do so even if the president were to nominate someone like Sri Srinivasen to replace Justice Scalia. Judge Srinivasen was nominated by Obama to be on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and he was confirmed less than 3 years ago with a unanimous 97-0 senate vote. It will take some serious hypocrites to refuse to consider such a nominee.

    When they do ignore their responsibility here I hope the party pays a steep price.