It’s right there in the U.S. Constitution: The Senate shall advise and consent to a president’s nominee for the Supreme Court except in an election year.
Of course, the Constitution says no such thing about election years, but it’s a measure of how badly out of kilter with American traditions is the U.S. Senate today.
Both Louisiana’s Republican U.S. senators are totally on board with the GOP’s stance of refusing to allow a vote or even a hearing on President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state’s senior senator, David Vitter, joined the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s 10 other Republican members in a letter released Tuesday saying the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia should be filled by the next president, not Obama.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy echoed Vitter’s position. “The American people have the opportunity in November to vote on which direction our country should go in,” Cassidy said in a statement. “Let the people decide.”
We would argue that the senators have it wrong. The Supreme Court of the United States is not a police jury, nor a political clubhouse for the majority party of the day.
Arguably, the American people already have decided the question of who nominates and who confirms justices to the high court, in electing senators from within individual states but Obama to the presidency in 2012. He won a clear majority, whatever senators might think.
The president’s nominee, obviously, may face hard going in the Senate, where there has been a deplorable trend of ideological debate over judicial nominees. Both parties have been guilty of pigeon-holing judges’ views and using Senate rules or just plain bullheadedness to block nominees believed to be too far right or too far left.
Conservatives continue to feel that Robert Bork was unfairly targeted for ideological reasons in the 1980s. The late Antonin Scalia could be confirmed with little ado, because of the widespread recognition years ago by senators that he was intellectually capable of being a justice. Those days seem far distant, and that’s too bad.
We have many times argued that judicial nominees, proposed by either party, deserve a prompt hearing and an up-or-down vote in the Senate.
All presidents, Obama included, are all too apt to dodge action when it is politically inconvenient. Now, he sees political advantage in doing his duty promptly with the court nomination.
We understand politics, and the Senate probably would act favorably on a moderate nominee who could win support from the more centrist GOP senators.
But it is highly political for senators to try to usurp the president’s prerogative to name a nominee in the first place. Perhaps senators may reject the Obama nominee, and perhaps that also will be politically embarrassing.
But if so, that debate will be in performance of the senators’ duty, if the president decides in this case to do his.