To Appoint, Or Not To Appoint
April 18, 2016
With the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, there has been debate on whether President Obama’s appointment has the chance of being subject to vote in Senate. Republicans want to wait for the next president to make the decision, hoping that the the new executive will be from their party, while democrats are vouching for Obama’s constitutional right to appoint. Even with Congressional reluctance, Obama started the appointment process on March 16, by nominating federal judge Merrick Garland for the position. Known for being a centrist, Obama hopes Garland can get past the Senate. Whether or not this strategy will work is still up in the air.
In order for his nomination to go through, Obama must get at least 51 votes in the Senate, and that might be a bit harder than it sounds due to Obama and Congress’ relationship throughout his presidency. Partisanship has led to a tight gridlock, making it difficult for Obama to get legislation through in the past. Currently, the Senate has a Republican majority and Senate conservatives have almost unanimously decided that the current president has no power over this decision.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Fox News that the Senate is “not filling vacancies on the Supreme Court in the middle of a presidential election year”.
The argument behind Mcconnell’s decision is the belief that the American people should have a say in the appointment of the new justice. Because of the attention regarding the upcoming presidential elections, this decision should be held off until the inauguration come January. This way, a more recent gage of public opinion will go into the appointment.
McConnell, quoted in a Politico article, said “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz has also expressed this opinion, stating on Twitter “Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, and the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.”
Many conservative congressman have rallied behind McConnell, agreeing that the death of Scalia was too close to the 2016 elections for a nomination to be necessary. This is the first time that a new justice could be appointed during an election year since the appointment of Anthony Kennedy in 1988, Ronald Reagan’s last year in office. Even so, that appointment by Reagan went through unanimously in a Democrat-controlled Senate. This approval of Reagan’s nomination was also an approval that McConnell voted for.
“I think [this] just confirms what a lot of people are thinking … people are becoming a little disenchanted with the government and the way it operates and how its unwilling to compromise and take action. So i think this just supports a lot of people’s idea that the government doesn’t work on anything and it’s mostly just deadlock” Said Public Forum debater Christopher Egerstrom.
Holding out on an appointment for an entire year will also be breaking a sort of recent trend; according to a Congressional Research Service report, there is an average of 67 days from presidential nomination to Senate vote.
“Republicans think if they wait enough time, that [the next] president will appoint someone who is a Republican justice, so then all the cases will sway in their favor,” said member of Robinson’s Congress debate team Neha Sampathkumar.
This situation truly depicts the recent polarization of the political parties. In reference to the appointment of Justice Kennedy, less than 30 years ago a Republican president was able to get a moderate justice through a Senate controlled by the opposition. Republicans and Democrats didn’t seem to have a problem with this compromise. The divide between the two establishments is wide, and only growing.
“For the record, I am extremely liberal [but] even if the president was a Republican or someone who was conservative, I would still say [the president should appoint] because it’s written in the Constitution. Whoever the president is needs to appoint a Supreme Court justice and yes, Justice Scalia died at an unfortunate time, but it’s the president’s duty,” said Sampathkumar.
Egerstrom added “I’m kind of middle of the road but i have to say I lean more toward the republican side. [Obama] most definitely has the right, and the Senate republicans have the right not to confirm his nomination”.
Procrastinating on this decision for yet another day has the potential to impact the outcomes of important future Supreme Court cases. Postponing the appointment could even mean not getting any court rulings due to the even number of justices.
Whether or not Senate will vote on Obama’s nomination is still up for debate. The odds on whether or not Judge Merrick Garland can get the appointment is a whole other conversation to be had. The nation will have to wait and see how our governing bodies decide to shape the future of this country.