By Tom Ballard
On Saturday, Feb. 13, the country was rocked with the news of the death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. After a few moments of shock and the words “breaking news” being painted across the screen of most major news networks, the coverage began to get political — really political. Anchors and commentators quickly gelled over who Scalia was as a judge and a man to ponder who his replacement will be on the nation’s highest court. The fact that this year is an election year has led some, mainly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to say that President Barack Obama should leave the seat vacant for the next president to nominate a potential replacement, according to a Washington Times article from Saturday, Feb. 13. However, it is the obligation of the current president to fill the vacant seat, and President Obama should do all in his abilities to fill the seat as soon as possible.
Article II, section two of the U.S. Constitution affords the president the right to name justices to the Supreme Court. “(The President) shall have power…,” the section reads, “(to) nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint… judges of the Supreme Court.”
It is the president’s constitutional right and duty to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat regardless of how much time is left on their term. It is also, as the section shows, the constitutional right and duty of the U.S. Senate, the body in which McConnell serves, to vet and approve or reject any nominee that the president sets forth. Regardless, according to the same Washington Times article, McConnell said in a statement that “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” and, as McConnell hopes, a Republican one.
The fact of the matter is that it will be no easy task for the Democratic president to get a Supreme Court nominee through a Senate that is firmly under Republican control. According to Congressional records, the last time a president had to nominate a member for the Supreme Court while the Senate was controlled by the opposite political party was President George H. W. Bush, a Republican, who nominated Clarence Thomas while the Senate was under a firm Democratic majority of 56-44. Thomas’s nomination barely squeaked by in the Senate, passing with a 52-48 vote to succeed Thurgood Marshall as a justice on the Court.
McConnell is hoping, as many Republicans are, for the 45th President of the United States to be a Republican. This would clearly make the nomination and approval process more painless while also most likely assuring that a conservative justice, one whose views are aligned with the common views of the Republican party, gets to serve on the Court until their death or retirement.
As an American and a registered Republican, I find the view that we can “delay, delay, delay (nomination of a Supreme Court justice),” as Donald Trump said in a recent debate, according to a Washington Post article from Saturday, Feb. 13, to be repulsive, and quite frankly, un-American. The courts were not established to be a political entity, but one that can keep the legislative and executive branches of government in balance. According to a USA Today article from Sunday, Feb. 14, the Supreme Court currently faces a heavy course load, including cases that deal with issues such as abortion, affirmative action and voting rights. The vacant seat should be filled with another justice — a person who can offer insight and reasoning into these cases — as soon as possible to ensure that the Court is making the right decisions for the American people.
Perhaps being a person who was born and raised in New Jersey, one of only 12 states that, according to the American Bar Association, does not have any form of popular elections to choose State Supreme Court Justices, the idea of having people play a role in selecting judges, especially the most powerful judges, seems foreign. Regardless, the pressure of having the potential party nominees for president use one of the most important jobs that a president has, the nominations of Supreme Court justices, seems to undermine the significance of that role while turning the situation into a political-sideshow in which candidates might be expected to parade-around who their nominee would be if they became president.
The Supreme Court is not supposed to be a body mucked-down in political meddling, but one that is meant to use logic and reasoning in interpreting the Constitution so that the rights of Americans, and their government, can be protected. If President Obama plans on replacing Justice Scalia in his term, as an article from CNN from Sunday, Feb. 14, reports that he does, he should nominate a person who is seen as impartial or moderate on political issues and who will act as an enlightened jurist that would place the well-being of our country above politics.