If you’ve started to think the fight to fill the open Supreme Court seat has become childish, you’re not the only one.
Immediately following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Republican senators, led by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, announced they would deny any of President Barack Obama’s picks, as they said the responsibility of choosing a new justice should fall on whomever is elected next fall.
Obama responded by making a nomination anyway on March 19. Merrick Garland, whose experience includes serving as a federal appeals court judge and prosecutor, is regarded as a moderate legalist by most.
The irony? In past Supreme Court searches, many Republican senators endorsed Garland — including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who is now one of the most outspoken opponents against Garland’s nomination. Now, instead of just saying they would deny Obama’s pick, the senators have declined to even vote to hold a hearing where a vote would take place.
It seems like many Republican senators haven’t progressed past the first stage in the process toward acceptance: denial.
In an effort to drum up support for Garland, Obama is expected to visit the University of Chicago on April 7 to make a case for his pick, and this won’t be his first time at the university. The president was a professor of law at the school, where he lectured on constitutional law for 12 years before leaving to become a U.S. senator in 2004.
However, there is a sliver of hope for Garland. One Republican senator — Mark Kirk from Illinois — has done the unexpected: his job.
On March 29, Kirk made history during a 25-minute meeting with Garland. What was so remarkable about it? This was the first time a Republican senator met with Garland since his Supreme Court nomination 13 days before.
Not only was Kirk the first Republican senator to meet with Garland, but he also used the meeting to publicly denounce the inaction of his party.
This is all coming from a senator from Illinois, where partisan politics have gridlocked the state house and kept a budget from passing for 10 months. If Kirk can reach across the aisle and do his job, then the other Republican senators can, too.
By choosing a Supreme Court nominee, Obama is simply trying to follow his job description, which states, “He shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the Supreme Court.”
Yes, his job description is part of the Constitution. This means this is a move Scalia, a strict textualist who interpreted the Constitution at face value, would respect and perhaps support. While some Republican senators argue Obama should wait and let the next president choose a nominee, Scalia might have argued that’s unconstitutional.
After all, the document only says, “he shall,” and not, “he shall, unless it’s an election year.”
Allow us to repeat another part of the Constitution: “with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” While the Republican senators have every right to disapprove Obama’s nomination — something that they do quite well — they must also advise the president. If they are unhappy with his choice, then they should come ready with alternative suggestions.
However, what’s happening now is a complete refusal to follow procedure. It’s one thing to deny a nominee, but it’s another thing entirely to deny any nominee simply because Obama picked him.
Like we said before, that’s just being childish.
While this could be an opportunity to break down party lines and accomplish something on Capitol Hill, this process has turned into yet another example of how dysfunctional our government is, and how intractable many of our politicians are. And that’s a disappointment.