Emily Kowalik ’18
Assistant Opinions Editor
“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” are the words Senator John McCain said on a recent Philadelphia radio show. What is even more alarming than the venomous partisanship this statement reveal, is the fact that there appears to be no legal reason why Senate Republicans could not follow through on such a threat.
A certain degree of deference to the presidents regarding their Supreme Court nominees had, up until recently, been the political norm. However, Republicans in this Senate have been doing everything possible to obstruct President Obama’s nomination to fill the place vacated by the death of Justice Scalia. This obstructionism includes ignoring Merrick Garland’s nomination, despite the fact that President Obama could have picked a nominee who would have been much less acceptable to the Republicans in terms of political ideology.
Republicans have used the pretense that the next president should be the one to choose who fills the Supreme Court’s open seat as a reason to refuse considering Garland, who is by all counts a perfectly qualified candidate. However, now, as the possibility of Clinton becoming the next nominating president becomes increasingly likely, Republicans may be ruing their decision to turn their backs on Garland. Clinton could and realistically may select a much more liberal candidate than Obama’s administration had.
McCain’s recent comment demonstrates that the argument for leaving the decision to the next president was entirely false, and simply a pretext marking a pattern of resistance is likely to continue long into the future, should Clinton become the next president. This is an especially disappointing move on McCain’s part, considering that in previous years he has been more tolerant and restrained in his views on cooperation in the legislature. McCain’s comments amount to a brash and imprudent notice to Republican voters that they can expect that their party’s senators will attempt to block any Democratic Supreme Court nominee.
The refusal of Garland is unacceptable because it sheds light upon an impenetrable divide between the parties, which threatens to gridlock the legislative process. Every Supreme Court candidate deserves to be fairly considered by the Senate. It is the Senate’s job to decide on each nominee based on his or her own merits, qualifications and ideologies and to not make blind judgments based on the ideology and beliefs of their president who nominated them.
There is the very frightening possibility that Republicans could hold up nominations for as long as they like, and in such a state of juvenile stalemate, our government cannot properly function. Without adopting the spirit of cooperation, true progress can only be made when the president and Congress are of the same party. This dangerous precedent of antagonism and lack of cooperation between the parties will lead to no end of conflict in government, especially if the Republicans retain control of the Senate majority next month.
While McCain has, since his radio announcement, backed off somewhat on his threat to hold up Clinton’s nominees, legal scholars argue that there is no legal reason why this obstructive behavior might not continue indefinitely. In the period following Justice Scalia’s death, some scholars pointed out that the Constitution has no rule or regulation stating the Senate must confirm a president’s nominee, or even consider them. Democrats and the president would have little legal recourse and may be forced to rely on appeals to public opinion.
With the current rancor between the parties, it seems Clinton winning in November may mean the Republicans keep up this blockade.