Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died Feb. 13, 2016. With the presidential election 269 days away, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and his caucus set a new precedent, refusing to hold confirmation hearings or a vote on then-President Barack Obama’s (D) nominee Merrick Garland because they believed the American people were mere months away from truly having a chance to weigh in on the decision.
This week Justice Anthony Kennedy, viewed by many as the center-right fulcrum of an otherwise politically balanced bench, announced he would retire. As a result, President Donald Trump (R), with two- to six-and-a-half more years left in the White House, will get his second bite at the Supreme Court apple, having already appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch last year.
If we are to set aside the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans pledging to plow forward with the nomination and confirmation process before the midterms, jus—-t 124 days from now, we don’t think it’s too much to ask for them to consider a few things as they begin the process.
First, can our current political climate handle the nomination and appointment of a partisan justice bent on say, being the deciding vote in overturning Roe v. Wade? Yes, it would score political points with the president’s Republican base and enflame liberals even more than they already are, which seems to be one of the few pillars guiding the right. Do Republicans in Congress truly believe they don’t have a role to play in restoring some shred of compromise and unity in our politics? Would nominating a hard-line pro-life justice this close to what was already likely to be possibly as heated a campaign season our country has ever seen (outside of 2016, of course) really do anything to advance our country’s discourse to a better place than we’re in now?
Further, beyond Roe v. Wade, are Republicans comfortable with the current discourse regarding the free press and the First Amendment? Will Trump be vetting his nominee about their stance on critical issues pertaining to his own legal situation, which includes probes into his personal attorney’s alleged pay-for-play White House access business structure and a special counsel investigation into Trump’s alleged campaign ties to the Russian government and its meddling in our election? Everyone involved is innocent until proven guilty, but if the president intends to impose a litmus test on his nominee for a question like, “Can the president of the United States legally pardon himself?” that should be a red flag to anyone who claims to believe in the rule of law.
We don’t feel it’s too much to ask for Republicans to consider a nominee that could serve as a unifier in as desperate a time as any for a little compromise, even assuming they’ve made up their mind on tearing up the McConnell Rule before the proverbial ink from 2016 is even dry. Both sides like to stake claims to a mythical moral high ground. Republicans, as they cheerlead things like tearing up the Affordable Care Act and labeling the free press as the enemy of the American people, could do more to stake an actual claim to that high ground than they have since Trump burst onto the scene with a nominee in the form of an olive branch.