Is blocking an Obama SCOTUS nominee worth losing the Senate?

posted at 12:31 pm on February 22, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

There are rumors circulating this morning that Mitch McConnell is meeting with Chuck Grassley today to discuss whether or not Grassley’s committee should at least entertain hearings for the expected Supreme Court nominee coming from the White House. This, as you can well imagine, has most conservatives on edge. The hard line for the base thus far has been #NoHearingsNoVotes and any Republican who is seen wavering on that point is already in the firing line. But there are arguments being made (generally more quietly) that such a stance will put the GOP squarely back in the “obstructionist” target range for the media and could potentially cost down ticket races in November. But as Alexander Bolton reports at The Hill today, there’s an even louder chorus saying that the seat on the high court is more important than any cost that might be incurred.

McConnell’s (R-Ky.) top priority since becoming majority leader last year has been to put his colleagues in a strong position to win reelection, in part by showing that Republicans can govern.

But bottling up President Obama’s nominee to replace the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia could bring the work of the chamber to a screeching halt, if Democrats choose to retaliate.

Conservatives say that’s the risk McConnell has to take.

Taking action on a Supreme Court nominee — even through the Judiciary Committee — when Obama has less than a year left in his term would be a cardinal sin, conservative activists say.

They argue the ideological balance of the court is so important that it’s not worth playing political games to take the pressure off vulnerable Republican incumbents.

There are plenty of early indicators which show that the appeasement camp could sway some GOP senators up for election this fall. The Concord Monitor already went after Kelly Ayotte over her support of McConnell’s initial claim that the nomination would wait for the next president, but she hit back over the weekend with an op-ed defending her position. Similarly, the Scranton Times-Tribune went after Pat Toomey, also up for election this fall. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Kirk seemed to be wavering at first, but have since backed off from calls for hearings to take place.

It seems to me that there are two separate but equally relevant questions in play here. First of all, is the threat to the Senate Majority real if the GOP holds the line? And second, even if we accept that it is, what price is too high to pay in exchange for keeping Barack Obama from naming Scalia’s replacement?

On the first count, pardon me if I’m dubious. The Supreme Court is a huge issue for both parties because the effects of these appointments can last decades longer than the time any president will remain in office or the tenure of the person occupying the Senate Majority Leader’s office. But that’s the case in every election anyway. Even if there isn’t a current vacancy, the highest bench tends to be populated with a significant number of people who are rather long in the tooth and who may retire or expire with no notice in any given year. Office holders and office seekers pushing to have a president from their own party make the next selection is nothing new and the nation has many larger fish to fry in the meantime.

But even if it did cost the GOP the majority in the Senate, what really would that mean when compared to the next decade or more of a majority on the court? I tend to be swayed a fair bit by David Bozell’s comments on the subject.

“I would rank having a conservative justice as more important than having the majority in the Senate,” said David Bozell, president of For America, a conservative advocacy group. “God knows this Republican majority in the Senate hasn’t done much anyway for conservatism, period.

I realize I’m making this argument less than 24 hours after pointing out that our SCOTUS nomination process is hopelessly broken, but any depression I may feel over the not terribly pristine nature of the process doesn’t change the reality of the results. If we’re going to wind up with either a highly partisan liberal or a highly partisan conservative in Scalia’s seat, I’ll still opt for the latter. That feeling is tempered by the realization that even if we stave off an Obama appointment, it’s far from a certainty that a Republican will win in November. For all we know, Hillary Clinton may wind up nominating the next justice and the GOP could conceivably lose control of the Senate in the process. Then we’ll be right back where we were in 2009. So is it worth it?

Sorry to say, but… yes. Yes it is. No hearings. No votes.

ReidMcConnell


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