Storm over Supreme Court nomination an insult to office of presidency

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia AP

Antonin Scalia came to the U.S. Supreme Court almost 30 years ago after an illustrious career as a lawyer, teacher and judge. He had many of the usual credentials: top academics, encyclopedic knowledge of historic cases and an astonishingly quick mind and articulate manner, and he charmed senators who interviewed him in his confirmation process. From his youth, Scalia was a straight shooter and a son and husband and father of graciousness, deep religious faith, integrity and loyalty to friends.

Scalia, who died last weekend on vacation in Texas at the age of 79, was known as a tough, hard-line conservative, though he occasionally surprised those who pigeonholed his judicial philosophy by standing for criminal defendants, for example, in the area of the rights of an accused person to confront his or her accuser.

He was known as well to try to hire at least one liberal law clerk, to be his foil in arguing over cases. Scalia liked to write opinions, worrying over a single phrase or even a single word.

He also loved to argue, and his closest friendship on the high court was with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an appointee of President Clinton’s. She has been on the other side of many of those arguments.

There is no question that even those who felt Scalia’s philosophy was wrong would defend his intellect and would acknowledge his influence over the last 30 years.

Now a firestorm is coming. President Obama is charged in his duties to name appointees to the Supreme Court. He says he is going to do that duty, and he should.

But some Republicans, including Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and the GOP candidates for president, say Obama should not attempt to appoint a replacement for Scalia. The logic for that view – something about this being an election year and that the appointment should come from the next president – is shaky at best and insulting and disrespectful of the office of the presidency at worst.

An absurd notion

The notion that a president with almost a year to serve should not bring the Supreme Court – facing a multitude of decisions – up to full strength is absurd. And the motivation for that notion is transparent. McConnell and his mates and the candidates want the president to shirk his duty because he has denied Republicans the White House, and they act almost as if he stole the office instead of winning it by a vote of the American people – twice. Republicans have been angry ever since, bombarding this president with a level of vitriol, some of it personal, rarely seen in the history of the office.

And they continue to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, under which nearly 20 million Americans have been able to get health insurance. Of particular annoyance to them is the fact that the high court, with Chief Justice John Roberts with the majority, upheld the ACA.

If Obama makes an appointment, it most certainly is likely to be someone of a more moderate philosophy than Scalia. And, therefore, the 5-4 votes of the court standing with conservative viewpoints could be flipped. That would have a monumental effect on decisions shaping the United States in myriad ways for years to come.

Senate Republicans and Democrats have over the nation’s history confirmed nominees of presidents with whom they differed, in the belief that a sitting president has the right to name judges inclined toward that president’s philosophy. Now, GOP leaders apparently want to toss that custom out the window in hopes a Republican will be elected president and could name another conservative to the court.

The president should submit a nomination, after a period of appropriate respect and reflection for Scalia’s family, of course.