The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has created a political firestorm. Republican senators are saying they will refuse to even consider any nominee to replace Scalia sent to them by President Obama. I said a few days ago that I thought they were making a serious mistake. President Obama is sure to nominate a moderate for the court, and the Republicans would be passing up the chance to put a moderate on the court (in the vain hope they win the presidential election, and can nominate a right-wing extremist).
It looks like I'm not the only one with that opinion. The traditionally conservative Dallas Morning News also thinks the GOP is making a mistake with their obstructionism. Here is what the paper's editorial board had to say:
For as long as there’s been a Supreme Court, it’s been the job of the president – and only the president – to put forward a candidate to fill any vacancy on its bench. For just as long, it has been the Senate’s job to decide whether to seat that person.
The president nominates. The Senate deliberates.
Comes now an argument from Senate Republicans that the stakes are too high for such precedent to hold. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insists President Barack Obama not nominate anyone to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia. That can wait till next spring, after a new president is sworn in and has time to consider his choices.
To back up this argument, McConnell has promised to reject any nominee sight unseen. No matter who they are.
To begin with, this is chancy politics. Senate Republicans should use their current leverage to push Obama to make a more centrist choice for the seat. McConnell’s path surrenders that leverage and renders the seat just another spoil for whichever party wins in November.
Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio immediately signed on to McConnell’s plan. Jeb Bush and Gov. John Kasich urged a more reasoned course, and from Donald Trump came this sage exhortation: “Delay, delay, delay.”
Yes, it’s uncommon for vacancies to occur in an election year. But when they have, no president of either party has sat on his responsibility and refused to nominate a successor. Nor has the Senate ever simply refused to even consider a nomination with so many months to go before the next election.
Eleven months before the 1988 election, Ronald Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy. Fresh off blocking Robert Bork, Democrats were conciliatory. Three months later, Kennedy was confirmed 97-0.
This page has long argued that presidents have wide latitude in choosing Supreme Court justices. We’ve also urged the Senate to scrub the candidates for signs of ideological extremism or inadequate preparation, which can be legitimate grounds for rejection.
When fate gave President George W. Bush back-to-back vacancies to fill, we lauded his choice of John Roberts for chief justice, citing both his qualifications and his reassurance that he’s no extremist. We had reservations about Samuel Alito, but his Senate hearings persuaded us he was well within the conservative mainstream. We urged his confirmation.
McConnell is right about the stakes. The nation is sharply divided. This choice could determine the court’s leanings for years. As a result, Senate Republicans should insist Scalia’s replacement not be a “legal extremist” or fall outside the mainstream.
But unless he changes his mind about a blanket rejection, McConnell has forfeited that opportunity.
The far wiser, and only responsible, course is for Senators to hold their hearings, study Obama’s choice and then all members, liberal or conservative, cast a vote they can defend.