The argument from 2016 is unavailing. Our own view was that the Republicans’ point about acting in an election year was secondary to the imperative to advance constitutionalism on the Court. But the most careful articulations of the Republican position in 2016 held that when a Supreme Court vacancy arose while the White House and Senate were controlled by opposite parties and a presidential election was coming soon, the vacancy should be filled by the winner of that election. In short, the voters should be asked to break the deadlock between two branches they elected. That condition does not apply today, as Republicans have won a Senate majority in three consecutive elections. (It is tempting, because it would be useful for conservatives, to say that Democrats should be held to what many of them said in 2016: that the Senate had a constitutional obligation to proceed with any nomination the president made. But that argument never had any grounding in the Constitution.)
The notion that Republicans should calm troubled waters by standing down is a little more beguiling. But it should also be rejected. Supreme Court nominations have become incendiary events because the Court has strayed so far from its proper constitutional role. There is no need to be coy: What we have in mind most of all, just like progressive activists, is abortion. In Roe v. Wade, the Court swept away the laws of 50 states and trampled on the most fundamental of human rights, and it did it without any justification in the text, original understanding, logic, structure, or history of the Constitution. Even legal scholars who approve of the policy result have admitted as much. A Court that claims that power for itself can commit many other enormities. And the Democratic Party, very much including its current presidential nominee, maintains a litmus test that any Supreme Court nominee must pledge fealty to that anti-constitutional ruling.