Barack Obama’s nomination to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia has already met with scoffs from the GOP. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to meet with Garland, and proposed that the obstructionist tactics adopted by the Republican Party to block any appointment by Obama during his eighth year in office were actually taken from the Democratic playbook. McConnell has vowed to let the next president fill the court vacancy, and will oppose any nominee from the Obama White House.
McConnell’s obstructionism, however, is not only wrong, but also the wrong move politically that will have serious consequences to the GOP for years to come.
Put aside, for a moment, the self-evident politicizing, the defiance of presidential authority and the general refusal of McConnell and his Senate colleagues to do their damn job. Merrick Garland has a long, moderate record and has earned support from both Democrats and Republicans over his esteemed career. In fact, Garland is something of a national hero within the judiciary, having served as the prosecutor of Timothy McVeigh, perpetrator of the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. Despite his heavy workload as Chief Justice of the Washington DC Court of Appeals, Garland has even found time to work as a tutor for schoolchildren. Is this really the candidate McConnell wants to risk his career opposing?
Make no mistake, McConnell’s career is the one on the line here–not Obama’s, and certainly not Garland’s. McConnell has already faced widespread criticism for his fanatical opposition to all things Obama, and come close to defeat in his most recent reelection bids. That he would, in essence, force the Senate to remain in session, thus avoiding a recess appointment, while defying constitutional scholars who insist that the Senate must hold hearings on Garland’s appointment within due time, flies in the face of all reason and precedent. The so-called “Biden Rule” which McConnell cites as authority to refuse to consider Garland’s nomination is both a non-existent rule, and has never been enforced. That leaves the motivation for McConnell’s uncooperative stance pure and obvious: obstructionism. Considering that 2016 is an election year, McConnell and his Senate colleagues should consider actually trying to look like they are at work, lest they risk getting voted out by droves in November.
Besides, as Nate Silver astutely argues, the Republicans could do far worse than seeing Garland appointed to the bench. Should Garland’s nomination go untried in the Senate, not only would the GOP run the risk of losing control of Congress (and possibly the White House, should a GOP Presidential candidate endorse their inaction), they could be forced to consider a nominee from the next president. Polls and delegate math suggest that Hillary Clinton would likely be the one to make the next nomination, and should that happen, Republicans might face an even younger, more liberal nominee. Candidate Bernie Sanders has already said that, if elected, he would withdraw Garland’s nomination in favor of a more progressive justice. Chances are, that’s not something the Republican party would want, as it would invite a more liberal court which could span generations.
The path forward
McConnell, then, should reconsider his position on the issue. Already, some Republican Senators consider breaking ranks with their party to at least hold hearings on Garland’s appointment. That could spell doom for an already-fractious GOP, especially with the increasingly-likely possibility of a contested convention, or the nomination of Donald J. Trump, which might force a third-party conservative run. Should that happen, the two conservative candidates would divide their base, opening the door for Hillary Clinton to take contested Republican strongholds like Texas or Indiana on Election Day.
To save the party, to put forward, at least, the illusion of functioning in government, McConnell and the GOP need to hold hearings on Merrick Garland’s nomination. Should they not, the outcome would be nothing short of catastrophic.
(featured image courtesy of AP and Getty images)