Since Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death February 13, President Barack Obama and the Republican-dominated Senate have been unable to agree on a nominee to fill the vacancy.
Former president Mr. Ronald Reagan nominated Justice Scalia, a devoted conservative, in 1986. During his 30 years serving in the Supreme Court, he opposed the idea of an evolving constitution and the right to abortion in all situations, and he supported the right to bear arms, according to ajc.com.
His death leaves the Supreme Court with four Democratic and four Republican Justices, giving the selection of a new Justice the power to swing the Court towards one party’s ideology or the other’s.
Although it is an unwritten rule that the president cannot appoint a Supreme Court Justice in an election year, President Obama claims that it is his obligation to select a new Supreme Court Justice as soon as possible. Republican senators declare that President Obama’s successor in the 2016 election should nominate the new Justice, so that the people of the United States can have a direct hand in the selection, according to CNN.
According to civilrights.org, the correct protocol for selection of a Supreme Court Justice requires a president to first send his nomination to the Senate. Then, the Judiciary Committee collects information about the nominee and calls witnesses to speak for and against him or her in a hearing before the Senate. The Judiciary Committee makes a recommendation to the Senate, and the Senate holds a debate on the nominee until three-fifths of the Senate agree to end the debate. A vote for the nominee then commences.
Currently, the Republican party holds the majority in the Senate, and majority leader, Mr. McConnell is firm in his belief that President Obama’s successor should select the new Justice, according to CNN. He also declared that he would not hold any hearings for nominees, according to CNN.
“I don’t know how many times we need to keep saying this: The Judiciary Committee has unanimously recommended to me that there be no hearing. I’ve said repeatedly and I’m now confident that my conference agrees that this decision ought to be made by the next president, whoever is elected,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview with CNN.
Not all Republican members of the Senate share Mr. McConnell’s views. Mr. James Lankford, an Oklahoma representative, declared that he would meet with any person President Obama nominated.
“The President’s going to do his job and I’ll do mine,” Mr. Lankford said in an interview with CNN.
President Obama claims that the Senate is constitutionally bound to hold hearings for any nominee they select, according to washingtonpost.com. However, according to Article II, section 2 and Article I, section 5 of the Constitution, the Senate is completely within its right to withhold from passing judgement on a nominee.
The Constitution declares in Article II, section 2 that “[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States.”
The Constitution further states in Article 1, section 5 that “[e]ach House may determine the rules of its proceeding.”
Mr. Obama argues that selecting a Supreme Court Justice requires the nation to rise above politics to come to a decision. In a speech he gave on the subject in Texas, he spoke about the Senate’s duty to at least hold a hearing.
“Give him a hearing. To deny it would indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair. It would make it increasingly impossible for any president, Republican or Democrat, to carry out their constitutional function. To go down that path would jeopardize our system of justice, hurt our democracy and betray the vision of our founding,” Mr. Obama said, according to houstonchronicle.com.
Some Republicans are unhappy with the way the Senate is dealing with the issue. According to politifacts.com, 60 percent of the population believes that the Senate should at least hold hearings for Mr. Obama’s nominees.
Mr. Vincent Badagliacca, Upper School History Teacher and Chair of History Department, considers it unfortunate that the election of Supreme Court Justices has become so political.
“In the 1980s, during the so-called conservative revolution, the nomination process was poisoned with partisanship as rarely seen before. The best example of this was the Reagan nomination of Robert Bork, who, on paper, was one of the most highly qualified individuals ever to be nominated, and who was several times previously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. This time, he was subjected to vicious partisan attack, led by then Senate Judiciary Chairman [Mr.] Joseph Biden and Senate colleague [Mr.] Ted Kennedy. The nomination was defeated,” Mr. Badagliacca said.
Mr. Badagliacca also disapproves of the hypocrisy present in both the Democratic and Republican Parties in regards to the election of Supreme Court Justices.
“In 1992, a presidential election year, during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, Senator Biden stated unequivocally that ‘once the political season is underway . . . action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until the election campaign is over.’ Further, in 2006, a freshman senator named Barack Obama tried (unsuccessfully) to filibuster President George W. Bush’s nomination of Justice Samuel Alito,” Mr. Badagliacca said. “So, the Supreme Court nomination process has become highly politicized and partisan, another symptom of the polarization which plagues our nation and the effective functioning of our federal government.”
-Elizabeth Bachmann, Co-Features Editor