Although it has now receded a bit from the major headlines it generated a couple of months ago, there’s every expectation that the issue of President Obama’s selection of Judge Merrick Garland for the U.S. Supreme Court will again be a huge bone of contention, before this critical election season is history. It would be unfortunate and only further entrench cynical popular sentiment about political gamesmanship and the judiciary, if Senate Republicans’ power play to ignore the president’s nominee holds firm until a successor to Obama is in place next year.
The Republicans’ strategy, of course, is all about rolling the dice on a Republican president calling the shots next year regarding who gets nominated. To no one’s surprise, however, they reach into the political correctness trick bag to explain away yet another “dis” of this president. Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell followed the president’s announcement of the Garland nomination with some claptrap that the hard-ball GOP stance was meant to “give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.” Surely an oddity, this inference of the GOP being suddenly people-sensitive, seeing as how GOP tone-deafness regarding the low esteem in which the electorate holds Capitol Hill clearly doesn’t hint at any burning GOP desire to pay heed to what “the people” find disgusting about their elected representatives.
And then there’s the self-styled puppet master who couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to work the crowd with some court nominee fluff of his own. In typical fashion, reducing the awesome presidential responsibility of high-court member selection to all the gracefulness of clown hijinks a la Barnum & Bailey, Donald Trump was regaling folks willing to listen with his list of potential nominees. There’s an entity called the Grand Old Party to which “credit” is due each time one of these Trump atrocities or inanities makes it onto your TV or computer screen!
Although Republicans, for the most part, have given Judge Garland the cold shoulder, there’s already speculation afoot that, should Hillary Clinton win the presidency in November, Republicans may very well get into a fast shuffle that pivots back to Garland. He being regarded as more of a centrist, consensus-builder type, as opposed to the kind of unblinking liberal jurist the conservative element fears with a Clinton nomination opportunity. In other words, rumors of politicking galore, as usual, to arrive at what purports to be justice for all.
Ultimately, that’s the shame of it — that there’s so much nakedly political posturing attending composition of the nation’s judicial forum of last resort. And the question isn’t whether Democrats, were the Senate breakdown reversed, would be doing the same dance. They very well might. The question, rather, is whether the process toward someone’s placement on the nation’s highest court couldn’t be stripped of at least part of the circus atmosphere that demeans it. It was in mid-February, for instance, that Justice Antonin Scalia’s death created the vacancy now to be filled. Which is to say, if the Republican wall of defiance holds all the way, it would have been roughly a year before a start could be made toward seating the court’s ninth justice. Think of the many 4-4 splits that figure to compromise court rulings in the meantime. Where, in this calculus, are the best interests of “the people” taken into account? Reform of the process, by whatever device is required, that expressly prohibits the kind of protracted delay to which the Garland nomination is being subjected, is sorely needed.
Even more scary than the travesty we’re now experiencing, with Republicans engaged in what their Senate majority allows them to do, is the prospect of Republicans brazenly attempting to stymie any high court nomination made by a Democratic president. We have regularly seen evidence, in certain extremist behavior displayed in the GOP caucus, which clearly suggests that being of hard-right ideological bent is the key acceptable qualifier for membership on the court. Especially so as a Scalia replacement. It’s the sort of fanaticism that tends to tune out the rights of others in the discussion and makes light of rules, protocol, etc. The name of Ted Cruz comes to mind. But he’s by no means alone in his single-minded devotion to right-wing extremism.
What’s being done with the president’s pick of the generally respected Judge Garland for the high court very much deserves to be in the mix in this contest for the presidency. And it will be, never mind one candidate’s trivializing of what this most sobering of presidential duties entails.