Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a public relations nightmare for the Republican Party. Before the body of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was cold, the Senate majority leader made his death a political issue by declaring the Senate would refuse to even consider an Obama nominee to the Supreme Court.
His act, along with those of every GOP candidate for the presidency during the South Carolina debate, was disrespectful of the late justice. No matter your thoughts on Scalia, and I admit to often disagreeing with his legal opinions, his legacy is worthy of more respect than turning his death into a circus sideshow.
Scalia’s respect for the Constitution tells me that if he could speak from Heaven, and remain true to his legal theories, he would undoubtedly ask McConnell and his cohorts where in the Constitution it is even implied that there should be a no-confirmation zone for any length of time, let alone for nearly one year. Cartoonist Tom Toles cut right to the chase with his recent two-panel political cartoon.
In the first panel we see an elephant holding a copy of the Constitution of the United States and saying, “We need a Supreme Court Justice who will respect the Constitution.” In the second panel the elephant remarks, “… except the part where it forgot to say that nominations should be held up for political calculation.”
Any reasonable interpretation of our constitution rejects the current GOP argument denying the president his constitutional duty. Some are arguing it is a long-standing tradition that presidents do not attempt to fill a Supreme Court vacancy during an election year; this is blatantly false. Since 1900 there have been seven such appointments made and confirmed in presidential election years.
Senator Ted Cruz is one who is using a non-existent policy called the Thurmond Rule to justify his announcement to filibuster any attempt by Obama to nominate a new justice. Cruz speaks as if this so-called rule is an established precedent. It is not and never has been a Senate precedent, let alone a Senate rule, but if you state a lie often enough people are likely to believe it.
Strom Thurmond used the filibuster in denying Lyndon Johnson his constitutional responsibility of appointing someone to replace Abe Fortas, who wished to step down. His reason was simple and blatant; Thurmond intended to punish the president of the United States for having the audacity of promoting and passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This is the false precedent the GOP is now referring to in defense of its position. There was no actual vacancy on the court, and Fortas remained for a time as a justice.
The absurdly overt partisan position of GOP leadership and supporters from conservative talk shows reflects three very negative tendencies we find more and more often in American politics in the 21st century. First, it reflects the increasing tendency of politicians to defer important decisions in hopes they will win the next election.
The idea of negotiating compromise has become a foreign concept within the GOP. With the Tea Party moving the Republican Party further and further away from the nation’s political center, it has become a zero-sum game for the GOP leadership. With this philosophy, no one, certainly not the American people, wins.
The second tendency reflected is the trend toward increasingly intense partisan acrimony surrounding any White House appointments. The third tendency is the increasing role of and the reliance upon the court while the legislative and executive branches are stuck in gridlock.
The opening salvo from McConnell, followed up immediately by the GOP presidential candidates, was not only a public relations mistake, it was totally unnecessary.
The remarks from the Senate majority leader were made to strengthen his position with the radical right that is moving the GOP today. The same is true of the candidates. It would have been far wiser to have kept their mouths shut on the issue and shown more respect for Justice Scalia.
They could have at least pretended to allow the president his constitutional duty and found all the fault, warranted or not, with anyone Obama nominated. By making their public statements they cannot even disguise their intentions.
Why, you may ask, would they do this? It has become more important for Republican leaders to curry favor with the radical right than to win over moderates and conservatives who fall closer to the center than the tea party.
Michael Adkins is the for
mer chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.