I hate it when this happens, when principle runs headlong into partisan political interests … such as when presidents might be handed an opportunity to make a key appointment.
I refer to the U.S. Supreme Court and to Donald J. Trump.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly in early 2016, creating a vacancy on the high court. President Obama, serving his final full year in office, then nominated Merrick Garland to succeed the brilliant conservative jurist. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed the brakes on that effort, saying that the Senate wouldn’t confirm an appointment from a lame-duck president in an election year.
Many of us — including me — raised holy hell. We argued that presidential prerogative allowed Obama to make that appointment. We argued on the principle that the Constitution granted him the authority to act. I also argued that McConnell was playing a shameful game of politics with this principle. The 2016 election occurred, Trump got elected, Garland’s nomination was tossed aside.
Here we are, four years later. Another Supreme Court justice, liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, revealed recently she is battling liver cancer. I now am asking myself: What happens if she can no longer serve on the court? Does Donald Trump deserve the same sort of presidential deference many of us in the peanut gallery said was due Barack Obama?
With gritted teeth and a tight jaw, I have to say: yes, he does.
Let me be crystal clear. I do not want Justice Ginsburg to leave the court until well after the November election. There’s a decent chance at this moment that Trump is going to lose to Democratic nominee Joe Biden. It is my fondest political hope that Justice Ginsburg can continue to serve on the court, can continue to write opinions and can be a full partner in the court’s deliberations. It also is my hope that should she decide to retire from the court that she can wait until after President Biden takes his oath of office in January and then is free to nominate someone of his choice.
However, if fate takes the court in another direction, I will be saddened beyond measure at what is likely to transpire as Trump wages war against those in the Senate who will fight to stall any confirmation process until after the voters have their say at the ballot box.
Yes, occasionally politics can be based on high principle. I fear that politics and principle might be pointed in opposite directions in this most volatile election year.