The sudden passing of Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court’s longest serving and most conservative justice, electrified an already unpredictable year in politics. Luckily, the drafters of the Constitution had recognized death as an unfortunate yet inevitable reality, and took measures to devise a protocol for appointments of new justices to the Court, by stating quite explicitly, “[The president] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the supreme Court.” Admittedly, no one was expecting the sudden death of Justice Scalia. Furthermore, most people viewed Obama’s successor as likely having the opportunity to appoint one or more justices to the Supreme Court. Yet the untimely death of a Justice during an election year isn’t unprecedented. In fact, since 1900, the Senate has voted on eight Supreme Court nominees during election years. So, what exactly is the problem? A Senate that refuses to recognize President Obama’s legitimacy, exemplified by years of unwavering obstruction.
Surely, President Obama recognized that his nominee, whoever it would be, would be met with staunch opposition. It comes as no surprise then, that whatever the President proposes, Congress will stubbornly obstruct it. This was only reaffirmed when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate would not even consider voting on the President’s nominee, whoever the choice was. It is one thing for the Senate to consider the nominee and decide that this individual may not be the best selection. Senators are allowed to disagree with the President. They are, in fact, entirely allowed to consent or withhold their consent on the nominee. They have every right to advise the President on their selection. In fact, it is their Constitutional duty to do so. It is, quite literally, spelled out in their job description.
Yet, unsurprisingly, the Senate remains unflinching. There have been certain Republican members of the Senate, such as Maine’s Susan Collins, who have agreed to meet with Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee, and to consider his qualifications and what he wishes to bring to the Court. While possibly disappointing liberal progressives, Obama’s selection of a fairly moderate, yet strongly qualified judge only highlights Senate Republicans’ unreasonableness. Instead, McConnell is calling for the next president to nominate Scalia’s successor, a rather optimistic stance that suggests that Senate Republicans would rather wait for a Republican president to appoint a more conservative justice. Trusting GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s judgment over President Obama’s is, in and of itself, baffling. But of course, Garland may actually be the safer choice for Republicans, especially given that a Clinton or Sanders appointee would most likely be far more liberal than Senate Republicans would like.
What this stance also reveals is an inability for the party to remain consistent with their own principles. The claimed champions of the Constitution are neglecting their Constitutional duties, blatantly ignoring a document many of them once seemed to revere as sacred. Why this change of heart? Because it is President Obama who is making the calls. And that’s an uncomfortable reality that many Republicans still haven’t fully swallowed.
Of course, President Obama’s entire presidential career was met with incredible obstruction. In fact, historians have said that this level of obstruction is almost unprecedented; a number of monumental bills have failed to receive more than a few votes from GOP senators. Such bills include the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “stimulus”), the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Extended Unemployment Benefits Act, the Small Business Jobs Act, as well as a campaign finance reform bill, dubbed the DISCLOSE Act, among others.
No former President of the United States seems to have faced this sort of obstruction on, quite literally, everything he tries to accomplish. In fact, the very legitimacy of his presidency has been called into question. The failed “birther” movement has produced absurd accusations and conspiracy theories as to Obama’s supposed ineligibility to serve as President due to his citizenship, with a recent Gallup poll finding that nearly one fourth of Republicans still doubt that President Obama was born in the U.S. This is something that no former president has had to deal with so extensively. This is possibly because President Obama is our first non-white president, given that others with immigrant parents haven’t had to deal with the intense scrutiny that he has faced.
So, Senate Republicans, when you claim that you want to give the American people a say in appointing Scalia’s successor, remember that the American people have already had a say. We had a say and voted for President Obama, not once, but twice, and as such, we expect him to carry out his duties as President and for this Congress to abide by its own duties. And no, Mitch McConnell, you can’t be a Constitutional crusader sometimes and simply ignore the parts you don’t like at other times. It is high time for Congress to abide by its Constitutional duties and truly start listening to and representing the American people. And if it fails to do that, the American people might just do something about the fact that 88 percent of Congress is up for reelection, and they might want a government that is in favor of bipartisan compromise on important issues, instead of obstructing any piece of legislation written by a member an opposing party.