Once a lame duck president called upon the Senate to, "Join together in a bipartisan effort to fulfill our constitutional obligation of restoring the U.S. Supreme Court to full strength." He also called on the Senate for, "Prompt hearings conducted in the spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship." In February 1988, eight months before that year's presidential election, the Senate voted 97-0 to confirm President Ronald Reagan's nominee, Anthony Kennedy.
President Reagan, the founding father of the modern Republican Party, governed recognizing that the American democratic system calls for compromise. He is quoted as telling aides, "I'd rather get 80 percent of what I want than go over the cliff with my flag flying." Reagan and then Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill respectfully worked together in the best interest of the American people, just the way our Founding Fathers had originally envisioned.
So when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced his intention to fulfill his constitutional obligation to put forth a Supreme Court nominee. In a post on the ScotusBlog website Wednesday, the president wrote the person he nominates will the eminently qualified. "I seek judges who approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda," he wrote, "but rather a commitment to impartial justice, a respect for precedent, and a determination to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand."
But Senate Republicans announced that there would be a no confirmation hearing and no vote on the president's nominee. "This nominee will be determined by whoever wins the presidency in the polls," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said to reporters Tuesday. "In short, there will not be action taken." As a justification, Republicans cited a June 1992 quote from then-Senator Joe Biden, who said, "President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not--not--name a nominee until after the November election is completed." However, Biden's comments were not made in February, but rather in late June, shortly before Congress's summer recess. And Biden was speaking of a possible resignation, not a sudden death.
Battles between the political parties over Supreme Court nominees have been increasingly contentious in recent history. Nonetheless, in a shocking and unprecedented move, McConnell said would not even meet with Obama's nominee. "I don't know the purpose of such a visit," he told reporters.
By making such a move, Senate Republicans are once again showing their utter contempt for President Obama. More importantly, they are once again demonstrating that their most important priority is winning political victories and settling scores rather than complying with the Constitution. Republicans think that by calling Obama the most divisive president ever, voters will overlook the fact that it is really the GOP that has been the great divider.
On the day Obama was first sworn in 2008, Republican leaders held a meeting in which they agreed to block Obama and make him a one term president. Of course, Republicans have since consistently done all they could to gum up the works. For instance, they blocked immigration reform, they shut the federal government down in 2012 over whether to raise the federal debt ceiling, they have blocked dozens of important judicial appointments, and they did nothing to silence the Obama birther movement.
However, as a consequence of endless Republican obstructionism, voters are frustrated and angry with Washington. This has led to the rise of Donald Trump as a Republican presidential candidate, and a civil war within the party. Meanwhile, Obama, despite of all the impediments he has faced these past seven years, has made real headway on the economy, banking reform, equal pay for women, health care, and he has kept the country safe.
The president intends on nominating a replacement for Scalia. A Fox News poll released Monday found that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed believe that Obama should make a nomination and the Senate should take action. Despite their bluster, Senate Republican leaders should allow the president's candidate to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. If the candidate is affirmed there, the Republican-controlled Senate should take up the nomination. For Senate Republicans to declare that they won't even meet with the candidate goes against the spirit of the constitution, and it is almost childish. What do they fear?
Perhaps they should reflect on the words of their spiritual leader, "There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers," Ronald Reagan said. "We must have the courage to do what is morally right."