It's not reasonable to think that the passing of Justice Scalia would have no political ramifications. It's just a shame that it came SO fast and SO bluntly. All reports I heard commented how it was usual that politicians waited until after the funeral, a period of mourning, and for the body to lie in state before making any political statements. But within minutes of the announcement by the Supreme Court of the justice's death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) released a statement, "“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,"
Again, to be clear, it's not the sentiment that's in question, but the almost-immediate timing. And Mr. McConnell's politicizing the process so incredibly quickly doesn't even hold a candle to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Within just two hours of the news of Justice Scalia's death, Mr. Grassley not not made blatantly clear that Republicans in the Senate wouldn't approve any nominee from the president, but he twisted the knife as politically as he possibly could. He said --
“The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year. Given the huge divide in the country, and the fact that this President, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda, it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court Justice.”
A few things about the egregiousness of this. First, a mere two hours early, Sen. Grassley had told a reporter for the Des Moines Register that he wouldn't comment on how his committee or the whole Senate might handle a nomination. (Gee, so much much for not commenting, eh? One can only ponder how quickly his phone rang after that initial statement hit the newswires and "suggested" a wee slight qualification.) Secondly, the president has made clear for seven years that he would like Congress to act on matters of law, but if they wouldn't -- and didn't, because Republicans in Congress have blocked nearly everything - then they'd leave him no recourse to but to take action. And third, as for that 80 years of "standard practice...the last time a Supreme Court nominee was before the Senate during an election year, it was ages ago, all the way back in...oh, 1988 -- and the Democrat-controlled Senate approved Republican Ronald Reagan's nominee Anthony Kennedy. Oh, and they approved him by a vote of 97-0.
Just for the sake of accuracy, of course...
In case you missed the point, let me phrase that again, just to be clear: a Democratic-controlled Senate passed the Supreme Court nomination of a Republican president during an election year by a completely non-partisan unanimous vote, 97-0.
Again, I understand why Republicans will likely refuse to act on a nominee from President Obama. But the incredible speed and level of politicization is galling.
And suddenly, just like that, the presidential race has just added two major issues. Appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice and control of the Senate to handle that appointment..
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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