The Supreme Court of the United States has been an institution of the American government since 1789 and has set the precedent for countless rulings that have shaped American history.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative judge, died earlier this month, leaving a vacancy. Until a new judge replaces him, the Supreme Court, usually comprised of nine members, will not establish a precedent if their vote is deadlocked at 4-4. This means that decisions can be overturned in lower courts and won’t be held as a nationwide standards.
It is now President Obama’s duty to choose a candidate to replace Scalia, who will need to be ratified by the Senate. But that’s the tricky part. With a Republican majority in the Senate, right wingers are arguing in favor of waiting until the next president is in office to appoint a new judge. Although Obama still has the power to choose a candidate, the Republican Senate majority could strike his candidates down in an attempt to stop an appointment.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, wasted no time after Scalia’s death to say the Senate should not confirm a replacement until after the presidential elections in 2016. His argument that a late-term appointment shouldn’t be made comes as a surprise based on his past.
In 1988, he voted to confirm Justice Anthony Kennedy in the last year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. And again in 2005, when there was Democratic opposition for George W. Bush’s appointments to federal appellate courts, he wrote in an op-ed to the LA Times: “Let’s get back to the way the Senate operated for over 200 years, up-or-down votes on the president’s nominee, no matter who the president is, no matter who’s in control of the Senate.”
So then why is he against it now?
In an effort to establish a conservative candidate as opposed to the liberal one that Obama will probably suggest, Republicans are going to try to block Obama’s candidate’s appointments by voting against them regardless of their individual merits. In some cases, Republicans would rather have a 4-4 tie in a ruling that goes against them, rather than setting a precedent that is not in their favor. And so, blocking Obama’s candidates would be their best option.
However, the Senate should look at candidates honestly and choose them for their merit, experience and skills, regardless of political views and party. We don’t live in an ideal world, and especially in politics, people are out to get what they want. Parties are going to be opportunistic to find an outcome that benefits them in the end. If the tables were turned, the Democrats might have done the same.
Ideally, both parties should set their differences aside and help appoint a new judge as soon as possible. If the Senate waits an entire year to approve somebody, so many Supreme Court cases won’t matter because they will not set a precedent.
However, Obama could also cooperate with the Senate by recommending a moderate judge as opposed to a liberal one. It’s not the ideal solution for either party, but it could also benefit both sides.
The judicial branch of the government should stand alone, and current political campaigns shouldn’t seep into the discussion of when to appoint a new judge. In reality, a bipartisan effort should be made to fill the position, and if that means the parties need to come to a compromise, they should.
Realistically, it’s hard to eliminate partisan biases from decisions. But hard as it might be, Obama and the Senate should acknowledge the rare opportunity they have to elicit change. The next action should be one that considers a mutually-beneficial options, especially since a decision as serious as this one can impact the trajectory of our government.
Just as the Supreme Court sets a precedent, its actions can set a precedent for years to come if another case like this arises. But they’re not thinking about the future, they’re focusing on the now. The Republicans want a conservative and will likely fight if Obama chooses a liberal candidate. Obama might want a liberal to fill the vacancy, but suggesting a moderate could promote cooperation between the parties.
Depending on your political views, you might want one thing to happen over the other. But the most important thing to think about is that decisions like the one on same-sex marriage came down to one vote. Whether the precedent the court establishes is in your favor or not, precedents will be less likely to be established until a ninth judge is appointed.
Only their actions will decide if the Supreme Court can continue to make history sooner rather than later.