Supreme stand-off

Our view: Af­ter stiff­ing Obama’s nom­i­nee, are Se­nate Repub­li­cans look­ing to dou­ble-down and re­nege on the prom­ise to let the next pres­i­dent fill the va­cancy?

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Be­fore Democrats get too smug and self-sat­is­fied about their nom­i­nee’s chances of get­ting elected pres­i­dent next month, they may want to con­sider what kind of Congress we’re elect­ing. Sen. John McCain dropped a pretty good clue on Mon­day when he told a Philadel­phia ra­dio sta­tion that Se­nate Repub­li­cans would stand “united against any Supreme Court nom­i­nee that Hil­lary Clin­ton, if she were pres­i­dent, would put up.”

Now, let that sink in for a minute. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell and his fel­low Repub­li­cans claimed eight months ago they couldn’t bother to fill Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia’s seat af­ter his death in Fe­bru­ary be­cause the mat­ter should be in the hands of the next pres­i­dent. It was a pretty lame ex­cuse to al­low the long­est stand­ing open seat in Supreme Court his­tory (and leave nom­i­nee Merrick Gar­land to be ig­nored for a record pe­riod of time), but at least such a stand held the prom­ise of a grid­lock-clear­ing de­ci­sion by vot­ers on Nov. 8.

What Se­na­tor McCain said Mon­day sug­gests the GOP po­si­tion was phony-baloney from Day1. While his re­marks have since been tem­pered — his spokes­woman sub­se­quently is­sued a state­ment that the se­na­tor would be judg­ing nom­i­nees based on their back­grounds and qual­i­fi­ca­tions but ex­pected Ms. Clin­ton to nom­i­nate a lib­eral based on her his­tory — they are a re­minder of the hy­per-par­ti­san at­mos­phere that still ex­ists on Capi­tol Hill. In other words, Pres­i­dent Clin­ton’s Supreme Court nom­i­nee can ex­pect a thor­ough kan­ga­roo court-style hear­ing be­fore Repub­li­cans find him or her want­ing and block a con­fir­ma­tion vote.

The Repub­li­cans’ mis­treat­ment of Judge Gar­land, a widely re­spected cen­trist, sug­gests there’s lit­tle chance any Clin­ton nom­i­nee will get a fair shake, at least not un­der the cur­rent Se­nate ma­jor­ity. Judge Gar­land is only the high­est pro­file ex­am­ple of GOP in­dif­fer­ence to fill­ing va­can­cies on the fed­eral bench — there are cur­rently more than 90 va­can­cies, with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s 51 nom­i­nees ex­ist­ing in a Twi­light Zone of Se­nate in­ac­tion. Just nine district judges and one ap­peals court judge have been con­firmed since Fe­bru­ary.

Con­fir­ma­tion slow­downs are com­mon in elec­tion years, but as with the Scalia va­cancy, Se­nate Repub­li­cans have taken mat­ters to new ex­tremes. All of which points to only one pos­si­ble way to guar­an­tee a Clin­ton Supreme Court nom­i­nee is treated rea­son­ably by the Se­nate — oust­ing enough GOP Se­nate can­di­dates so that the party can no longer hold the na­tion’s high­est court hostage. A Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity wouldn’t guar­an­tee a Clin­ton nom­i­nee is ap­proved, but it would at least give that per­son a fight­ing chance.

The irony, of course, is that Mr. McCain’s rev­e­la­tion took place while he was cam­paign­ing for fel­low Sen. Pa­trick Toomey who Sen. John McCain said that a Re­pub­li­can Se­nate would op­pose any Hil­lary Clin­ton ap­pointee to the Supreme Court. faces a tough re-elec­tion fight in Penn­syl­va­nia, a state that is likely to wind up in the Clin­ton col­umn. Se­na­tor Toomey has, among other things, de­clined to en­dorse Don­ald Trump, po­si­tioned him­self as a mod­er­ate (he’s for im­proved back­ground checks on gun pur­chases, for ex­am­ple) and fa­mously sidestepped pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics when­ever pos­si­ble — much to the amuse­ment of late-night co­me­di­ans. The last thing he needs is for Clin­ton sup­port­ers to leave his camp.

We would also be­moan the reap­pear­ance of Po­lit­i­cal Ex­trem­ist McCain and the de­par­ture of Straight Talk McCain, but the lat­ter in­car­na­tion of the Ari­zona Re­pub­li­can has been largely MIA since his failed 2008 run for pres­i­dent any­way. His re­cent dis­avowal of Mr. Trump seemed a lit­tle late by Straight Talk stan­dards but per­fectly in line with his cur­rent per­sona. Had he blasted Mr. Trump be­fore his Au­gust pri­mary, he might have sunk his own re­elec­tion bid, but, of course, he didn’t.

Se­na­tor McCain doesn’t speak for ev­ery­one in the GOP cau­cus, but his Re­pub­li­can col­leagues cer­tainly haven’t ob­jected to his re­marks about how a Clin­ton Supreme Court nom­i­nee might fare next spring. Democrats ought to take this to heart. Un­less their party re­cap­tures a Se­nate ma­jor­ity, the Supreme Court may be­come as in­ef­fec­tive as Congress. And it isn’t just the Scalia va­cancy; sev­eral other seats may be open within the next four years. That’s a po­ten­tial Con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis that can be averted if Congress sim­ply does its job and con­sid­ers Supreme Court nom­i­nees on their mer­its. Short of that, Democrats had bet­ter wrest con­trol of the Se­nate or it could be a long and dys­func­tional road ahead.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP

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