The fight over immigration?
Or the Affordable Care Act?
Or budget priorities?
How about gay marriage?
All of those battles between President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress are going to pale in comparison to what’s coming up: the battle to find a suitable nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden and tragic death Saturday has caused political apoplexy in both sides of the divide in Washington.
Democrats want the president to nominate someone sooner rather than later. Republicans want the nomination to wait until after the election, with the hope that one of their own will occupy the White House beginning Jan. 20, 2017.
President Obama indicated last night he’s inclined to move forward, to nominate someone and to insist on a “timely vote.”
He is correct to insist that he be allowed to fulfill his constitutional responsibility and that the Senate fulfill its own duties.
One of the Republican candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio, said last night that no one has been appointed during an election year. He’s half-right. President Reagan appointed Anthony Kennedy to the high court in 1987; a Democratically controlled Senate confirmed him in 1988, which certainly was an election year.
Consider this, though: Justice Kennedy succeeded another GOP nominee, the late Justice Lewis Powell (picked by President Nixon). Kennedy’s appointment and confirmation did not fundamentally change the balance of the court.
This vacancy is different. By a lot.
Justice Scalia was a towering figure among the conservative majority that serves on the court. Whoever Obama selects surely will tilt to the left.
Therein lies the fight.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said the vacancy should be filled after the election, adding that the “American people deserve a voice” in determining who sits on the court.
He could not be more off base. Yes, the voters deserve a voice. However, they spoke decisively about that in November 2012 when they re-elected Barack Obama as president.
Indeed, elections have consequences. There can arguably no greater consequence than determining who gets to select candidates to sit on the nation’s highest court.
The president — whoever he or she is — has a constitutional responsibility to act on a timely manner when these vacancies occur. Moreover, the Senate has an equal responsibility to vote up or down on anyone nominated by the president.
I’ve long believed in presidential prerogative — and my belief in that has never wavered regardless of the president’s party affiliation.
So, let’s mourn the death of a distinguished and, in the president’s words “consequential” justice. Then let us allow the president to do the job allowed by the Constitution and then let us demand that the Senate do its job by voting on whoever the president selects to fill this critical court vacancy.