Shortly after the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on February 13th, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate would not take any action on any nominee submitted by President Obama. His stated rationale: “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.” I’ll debunk the logic of this statement in a moment, but let’s bring the timeline to date. After a week in which Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley appeared to bend just a little bit, yesterday he and the other Republican members of the committee lined up squarely behind McConnell. Senate-SCOTUS-Letter
They state that, “the American people are presented with an exceedingly rare opportunity to decide, in a very real and concrete way, the direction the Court will take over the next generation.” This is a bald lie, in that the opportunity is not rare, but is given to the American people every four years, as provided in the Constitution which the senators cherish so dearly. The timing of Scalia’s death merely brings that opportunity front and center in a contentious election cycle, an election cycle that has become a continual one in modern politics. The committee members conclude, “Because our decision is based on constitutional principle and born of a necessity to protect the will of the American people, this Committee will not hold hearings on any Supreme Court nominee until after our next President is sworn in on January 20, 2017.”
Many commenters have already noted that the will of the American people as to the election of a president was heard twice already in the election and re-election of President Obama, whose term continues until next January. Put under any close examination, McConnell and the committee’s stated motive does not survive even cursory examination. Senator Marco Rubio, among other senators, has said that we can’t let “this lame duck president” appoint the next member of the court. But by this logic, any senator whose term expires in January, and every member of the House of Representatives, is already a lame duck as well. In fact, their terms expire seventeen days sooner than the president’s, so they are lame ducks even more so. Henceforth none of them should be allowed to vote on any matter for the remainder of the session. Of course this is, bluntly put, bullshit. But that doesn’t matter to these senators, as the will of the people is irrelevant to their true motives. They have two real motives here. First, they believe that only conservatives have a political right to have a majority of seats on the Supreme Court, and to them that political right is sacrosanct. Part of that reasoning is fear of being primaried for not delivering on their promises to keep the court conservative. This motive has been discussed much already in the public sphere. They have a more sinister motive which has not been widely discussed.
As the senators know, and as has been discussed in the press, they are taking a roughly 50% chance that a Democrat will be elected as president in November. Of course with a President Clinton or a President Sanders, if Republicans retain the Senate then the committee could continue its refusal well into the next president’s term, and may well do so. But there is one fact of which they are certain. Regardless whether a Republican or a Democrat wins the White House, the new president will be white. And that is what this comes down to. Since the election of Barack Obama, the Republicans have doubled down on their strategy of delegitimizing Democratic presidents. They started with Bill Clinton, but they went whole hog on Barack Obama, because he is a black man. It’s time that they, and the press, admit this fact.