Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected and sudden death leaves a personal, intellectual and ideological vacuum on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court.
This vacant seat has already set in motion political jockeying both on the presidential campaign trail and in Congress. With four generally conservative justices and four on the more progressive end of the spectrum, the decision to appoint the next Supreme Court associate justice has already turned into political currency.
At No Labels, we believe there is a different approach — that of compromise in the national interest.
To continue to politicize this issue would be detrimental to our government — the Supreme Court is our last stronghold in the delicate balance of power instituted by our Founding Fathers. The next nominee should be carefully considered and selected primarily on respect for the Constitution — not chosen simply to fulfill a political agenda.
President Obama has said he will appoint a new justice to the bench. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the president should wait until a newly elected president takes office. Senate Republicans, and some presidential candidates, have called to block approval of the president’s eventual nominee. This posturing by both sides accomplishes nothing for our country, except to have the president send a nomination to the upper chamber that will not be acted upon and leave the Supreme Court with only eight members for more than a year.
Surely our elected leaders can do better than that. Each side is taking a big risk in not finding a way to confirm a presidential nominee to the court before the November elections because neither side can know now which party will occupy the White House and control the Senate next year. Would it not be in the national interest for President Obama and Senator McConnell to talk with each other to see whether they can agree on a nominee who is the first choice of neither but acceptable to both?
The implication in selecting someone along party lines or because of party politics further perpetuates the partisan divide that has already harmed not only the perception of politics in this country, but the actual execution of it. The nomination for the next Supreme Court justice must reflect this underlying understanding — the bench should represent conservatives, liberals, and moderates. It should have nine sitting justices. It should base decisions primarily on an interpretation of the Constitution, not one’s own political affiliation, without fear of reprisal.
Ronald Reagan was the last president to appoint a justice to the bench during an election year. He chose Justice Anthony Kennedy in November 1987 to fill the void left by a retiring Justice Lewis Powell. A Democratic-controlled Senate unanimously confirmed Kennedy to the bench in February 1988.
It can be done this time too — election year or otherwise.
If ever there was a time to compromise for the good of our country, it is now regarding the selection of our next Supreme Court justice.