Not holding Supreme Court nomination hearings is “middle finger” politics

WASHINGTON – What’s with the right wing bunch who are running the House and Senate? They’re violating their own conservative creed. They’re refusing to hold hearings on President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

A cornerstone of conservativism has always been “strict constructionism:” the U.S. Constitution means what it says and says what it means. What was good enough for George Washington is good enough for us.

Yet Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who claim to be the staunchest of conservatives, are refusing to follow the Constitution’s instructions about what to do when there’s a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Such a vacancy was created last month when Justice Antonin Scalia, a right wing mouthpiece, unwound his mortal coil while on retreat with the International Order of St. Hubertus, an ancient, arcane “hunting club” with all sorts of fancy costumes, secret codes and handshakes.

Article II Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution plainly states what to do. It says that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint” justices to the Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, even before Scalia was laid to rest, McConnell and Ryan, who are otherwise strict constructionists to a fault, said in effect “let’s bend the Constitution. Let’s not have hearings on a nominee until a new president takes office next year. A president shouldn’t make such appointments in their last year of office.”

Their stance is clearly contra-Constitutional. It also has no precedent, according to PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize-winning news service. Three times since 1900 there have been Supreme Court vacancies during a President’s last year. All three times the exiting president made nominations:

Yesterday, President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy left by Scalia.

Garland is currently chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a court whose jurisdiction over federal policy and national security matters has made it a proving ground for several Supreme Court justices.

Garland is known as a “centrist” who states his opinions in measured, precise terms. He won his seat with solid Republican support. The Senate voted in 1997 to confirm him in a bipartisan 76-23 vote.

Yet McConnell, Ryan and all the other right wing Republican senators are putting their hands over their ears and tightly closing their eyes: they don’t want to hear about Garland or discuss his merits.

Again: what’s up with that?

The obvious answer: it’s politics.

The right wingers leading the House and Senate dug into their ignore-the-Obama-nominee bunker last month when they still had hopes that if the Senate waited to hold hearings until after the new President took office, they could get a Scalia clone on the Court.

In others words, they had hopes that the next President would be a right winger like themselves.

However, now it looks like a right winger like Donald Trump will get the Republican nod and have a shot at the presidency.

McConnell and Ryan are scared, and well they should be. They might be looking down the barrel of a rifle with their own fingers on the trigger. It wouldn’t be the first time they shot themselves.

Nevertheless, they feel it’s too late for them to change course without looking foolish.

They’re in a pickle but have a way out. They can dig in their heels and refuse to consider President Obama’s nominee until after the elections in November. Then, if a Democrat is elected President or if the Democrats win a majority in the Senate, McConnell can okay hurry-up hearings to confirm Judge Garland before the Democrats take office and a more liberal nominee can be named.

All this might be good politics for the right wingers, but it’s bad for the nation. While the Republicans fiddle, there are burning issues that must be decided by the Supreme Court.

The Court’s decisions in these cases could impact the lives of millions of people. For example, they could bolster or destroy some union rights, make it easier or nearly impossible for women to have access to safe abortions and uphold or block President Obama’s executive orders protecting some undocumented immigrants.

Can a Supreme Court that lacks one Justice make such decisions? It’s unclear. But the right wingers blocking consideration of Judge Garland don’t seem to care.

They are engaging in what the mainstream media is calling “middle finger” politics. They are metaphorically making an obscene gesture at American democracy and governmental functioning.

McConnell, Ryan and the rest are showing once again that they adhere to no principles, not even conservative ones. They are very good at throwing a wrench into the wheels of government.

They flunk out when it comes to serving the people. 

Photo: Merrick Garland with Obama.  |  Martinez Monsivais/AP


Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.