OPINION – If you thought Election 2016 was bad before, hang onto your hats. It is about to become unbearable.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Saturday has injected a new level of partisanship into the election that is going to sink this campaign season to unprecedented depths of turmoil, angst and anger as Republicans vow to interfere with the selection of the next Supreme Court justice.
It didn’t take long for Republicans to politicize Scalia’s death.
learning the news, GOP candidate Ted Cruz tweeted: “Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”
And, Conn Carroll, an aide to Utah Sen. Mike Lee, tweeted: “What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice to replace Scalia?”
(Note to readers: The grammar and punctuation are not mine. These quotes are taken directly from Twitter accounts.)
Saturday night during the Republican debate, Cruz fanned the fires when he said: “We have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year.”
That simply is not true. Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed by the Senate in 1988 during Ronald Reagan’s last year in office.
Cruz continued his attack on the president and the Constitution Sunday morning when he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “This should be a decision for the people. Let the election decide.”
Cruz also threatened to filibuster any nomination made by the president.
I’ve got news for Cruz and any Republican trying to coerce the president into not making an appointment. That decision was made by the American people four years ago when they elected Barack Obama.
Deal with it.
Do not further insult this presidency by trying to invalidate the final year of the Obama administration. Do not further insult a Constitution you savage and disregard with regularity as you twist your interpretation of it to suit your own agenda by doing such things as demanding the president ignore his duty to appoint a new Supreme Court justice. Do not further disrespect a presidency you have ambushed at every opportunity. Do not further divide a nation you have already split into intractable cells of anger, racism and a faux religious platform that is exclusionary, judgmental and intolerant.
Democrats have had enough of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and the rest of the arrogant ideologues who would be king. There is only one way to deal with bullies like Rubio, Cruz and Trump and that is to stand up to them. I mean, if they are already trying to inflict their will on the people, what will happen if one of these guys is elected? I guarantee it will only get worse because a leopard never changes its spots.
If we have learned anything in the last few days it is that the energy spent on this latest GOP talking point serves as a reminder of how important the 2016 campaign is, particularly down the ballot where 34 senators will be up for election.
Republicans currently control the Senate with 54 seats. The Democrats hold 44 seats. There are two independents who caucus with the Democrats. How solid that hold will be if, indeed, the Republicans obstruct an Obama nominee remains to be seen.
But, there is some one-upmanship at play as Democrats have already taunted the GOP demand to wait until after the election to nominate a new justice by positing that the new president – either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders – could nominate constitutional scholar Barack Obama to the court. I seriously doubt the president would accept such an appointment after serving two tough terms as president, but one never knows.
This Court has been a relatively moderate group.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan pretty well anchor the liberal side of the Court. Justice Stephen Breyer runs a bit more moderate. The right is represented by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alioto. Kennedy is a clear-cut moderate. Scalia was a strong conservative voice on the bench.
A third Obama nominee – he nominated Sotomayor and Kagan – could clearly tip the court. Given the age of several members of the court – Kennedy is 79, Ginsburg is 82 and Breyer is 77 – the next president probably will have a longstanding influence on the Supreme Court.
There are important, politically charged decisions coming before the court, from immigration to abortion. That’s why we will, without question, see the Republicans dig in their heels and drag this out for as long as it is politically advantageous. It is why the party is already trying to bully Obama into passing on his constitutional duty to nominate a replacement for Scalia. Obama, however, has already said that he plans to put a nominee before the Senate.
“I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time,” he said Saturday evening. “These are responsibilities I take seriously, as should everyone. They are bigger than any one party, they are about our democracy.”
So, the gauntlet has been thrown down by both sides.
Will we see a year’s delay in naming and confirming a new Supreme Court justice?
Hopefully not, although all along, I have thought that the Republicans would do all they could to block any Democratic legislation proposed this year. That is, unfortunately, the face of 2016 politics.
But, I thought that sort of obstructionism was more likely to come in other areas.
There is the possibility that the president could make what is known as a recess appointment – something he has done in the past to fill other positions – and appoint a new justice while the Senate is dark.
Now, before you go berserk on this, understand that there is clear precedent. Twelve justices have been seated while the Senate was in recess. In fact President Eisenhower appointed three justices in that manner.
I would be very surprised if that happens because the Senate recess ends on Feb. 22. However, if McConnell and Cruz and the rest of the far right keep hammering at him, he may feel he has no other recourse.
Personally, my anger speaks at the moment and says Obama should make a recess appointment, naming the youngest, most liberal judge he can find.
That would certainly heat up the campaign and serve a little payback on the political thugs who are trying to hold the Constitution and the GOP’s strange form of democracy hostage for their own benefit.
But, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do.
The right thing is simply for Obama to do his job and name a replacement for Scalia.
Then, the Senate needs to do its job and properly vet the candidate without prejudice or rancor.
Don’t hold your breath.
The Republican puppets in the Senate will more than likely fall into lockstep with McConnell and party leaders, drawing this out to become one of the ugliest fights in political history.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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