On Inauguration Day in January of 2009, a group of influential, establishment Republican leaders met for dinner at an exclusive Washington, D.C. restaurant to figure out how to obstruct anything/everything President Obama attempted to do. This isn’t conspiracy thinking. Representatives present at that secret meeting inlcuded Eric Cantor (Virginia), Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Pete Hoekstra (Michigan), Dan Lungren (California), Kevin McCarthy (California), Paul Ryan (Wisconsin), and Pete Sessions (Texas). Senators present were Tom Coburn (Oklahoma), Bob Corker (Tennessee), Jim DeMint (South Carolina), John Ensign (Nevada), and Jon Kyl (Arizona). Two conservative non-lawmakers – Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz – were also in attendance. Before even waiting to see if the president would work with them, those GOP leaders had already decided to make Barack Obama a one-term president. Over 7 years later, the GOP is adhering to the very same standard – this time in the wake of the passing last Saturday of the iconic conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia. As it relates to blatant obstructionism, the Republican Party has come full circle.
Full disclosure: I am well aware of who Supreme Court Justice Scalia is. I remember watching his Confirmation hearings on television in the 1980s. I know he redefined what a Supreme Court Justice is and what a Supreme Court Justice does. I know he was controversial. I know he was as outspoken as he was generous. I know he was known for his sense of humor. I also know his passion for social justice in America was not always reflected in his opinions and in his dissents. It should come as no surprise that I did not agree with Justice Scalia very often. I found his commentary in 2013 that, in his opinion, the Voting Rights Acts was “perpetuation of racial entitlement” especially disappointing. However, I mourn his passing. No one can deny Justice Scalia’s intellectual brilliance – or his love for the law. Any individual who serves as a Supreme Court Justice for 30 years must be given the respect he or she is rightfully due.
Justice Scalia’s death was reported on Saturday at 4:30pm Eastern time. Within an hour, Republican leaders were already stating emphatically that President Obama should not nominate anyone to replace Justice Scalia: not next week or next month or even next year. Exactly how would that pay homage to Justice Scalia – a man who labored to consider the burning legal issues of this country alongside his colleagues for 30 years? So conservatives seek to honor one of their own, a man revered for his work ethic, by refusing to do their work? By pledging to block any Supreme Court nomination by President Barack Obama until after November? Even the 2016 GOP presidential candidates are in on the act. Donald Trump replied last Saturday night when asked about the issue, “Delay-delay-delay.”
When Republicans state empathically that the next president should be the one who nominates Justice Scalia’s replacement, consider for a moment what that actually means. The Supreme Court currently has on its docket cases of great importance. Those cases include affirmative action (Fisher v. University of Texas), abortion (Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole), contraception (Zubik v. Burwell), labor unions (Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo), jury selection (Foster v. Chatman), voting rights (Evenwel v. Abbott), sentencing in capital punishment (Hurst v. Florida), juvenile justice (Montgomery v. Louisiana), and immigration (United States v. Texas). Any 4-4 decisions will result in two unfavorable outcomes:  the decisions will set no precedent constitutionally, and  it will be as if the cases had never been heard by the highest court in the land because the decisions of the lower court(s) will be carried out. Regardless of your ideology, no one wins in those two scenarios.
This isn’t a constitutional crisis. Don’t believe the hype.
The GOP talking point that no “lame duck” president has ever nominated someone to be a Supreme Court Justice is totally untrue. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in 1912, 1916 (twice), 1932, 1940, and 1987. The president who nominated a successor to the US Supreme Court in 1987 – his last full year in office? His name was Ronald Reagan.
The suggestion of the Supreme Court being left at 8 justices for the next 13 months is unprecedented, nonsensical, and disingenuous. Do you really think that President Ted Cruz would hesitate to nominate someone to the Supreme Court during his last year in office? Do you actually believe that Senator Ted Cruz would turn down the chance to be nominated to the Supreme Court right now if asked? Come on.
President Obama would be derelict in his duties if he didn’t nominate a potential replacement.
This just in: the president may have a huge trump card (pardon the expression). He could conceivably get the Supreme Court Justice of his choice even if the Republicans win the White House in November. How, you ask? Watch and learn.
The consistent obstruction since 2009 is déjà vu on an endless loop. It’s just the GOP going full circle. Again.