Empty Seats

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has made this campaign season even more interesting. Now we’ll get to hear the candidates talk about their ideas on the role of the Supreme Court, and what one should hope to get in its members.

Of course, there will also be the usual foofaraw over the “fitness” of the nominees to replace Justice Scalia. We’ve already seen it start, but it’s interesting that the tone is a bit different this time. Instead of the mouthpieces of the GOP saying flat out that they will oppose whoever Obama nominates (on whatever principle they feel their constituents are most concerned about), they are saying that the nomination should wait until after the election. Something having to do with the fact that there will be a new president very soon, and it isn’t fair to whoever that will be for some reason.

There are a few reasons why this delaying tactic is nonsense (mostly because there’s absolutely no reason behind it), but there’s much more to it than that. While the GOP strategists have been planning to oppose any potential Obama Supreme Court nominee for a long time, the words they are using – don’t even bother nominating someone – hint at what’s really going on.

Article II Section 2 of the Constitution says it is the duty of the president to nominate candidates for positions like the Supreme Court and it is the duty of the Senate to offer “advice and consent” on these nominees. If Obama were to present a nominee, the GOP members of the Senate would have to come up with reasons for not doing their job. The usual “Whatever it is, I’m against it” isn’t going to work much anymore. We’ve seen just how fed up voters are with the obstructionism and stalemates in Congress (which partly explains the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders).

And this year, in addition to voting for a new president, thirty-four Senate seats are up for election. What makes the GOP nervous is that twenty-four of them are currently held by Republicans. Most of them are “safe” seats, but depending on who you listen to (and when they did their count), as many as ten are toss-ups. And the GOP majority in the Senate is only three seats (54 compared to the required 51)….

The GOP isn’t just trying to tilt the Supreme Court their way and win the White House; they also want to maintain control of the Senate. And that’s going to be harder to do if they anger more voters with pointless obstructionism. Sure, the GOP will spout a lot of sound and fury during the Inquisition (er, confirmation hearings), but it’s all going to signify nothing more than grandstanding for their base. In the end, as long as Obama doesn’t nominate a complete loser, the nomination will begrudgingly go through. Better a slight lean leftwards on the Supreme Court than a Democrat White House, Senate – and a slight lean leftwards on the Supreme Court, too.

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