Posted by Nadia Aziz on February 18, 2016 in Blog

Antonin_Scalia_Official_SCOTUS_Portrait.jpgThe passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has left a large void on the bench for conservatives. A champion of “originalism,” Justice Scalia, changed the way we discussed and debated the Constitution.  Scalia advocated for the original meaning of the Constitution as opposed to treating it as a living, breathing document that slowly evolves with the times. His use of rhetorical extremes, and a form of argument he called “reduction to the absurd,” often shocked, alienated, and offended readers. While his piercing prose will forever remain in the books of American jurisprudence and his legacy as a constitutional scholar will shape legal minds for generations to come, the political consequences and timing of his passing have thrown an unexpected curve ball in an already tumultuous election cycle, and has further polarized an already divisive Senate 

Shortly after Justice Scalia’s passing was announced, President Obama offered his condolences and stated his intention to name a nominee to fill the vacancy in “due time.”  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly vowed to block any consideration of a Supreme Court nominee by President Obama during his final term in office.  While many Republicans have supported McConnell’s call to block any nomination before one has even been named, others have called the strategy “obstructionist,” and some have drawn similarities between McConnell’s rhetoric and some Democratic Senators’ responses to the nomination of Justice Alito during President Bush’s final term in 2007.  

Specifically, in response to McConnell’s vow to block consideration of a nominee, the likely heir to the position of Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Schumer had stated that when the “hard right” does not get its way, their response is to “shut it down.”  Senator Schumer drew criticism for his remarks as similarities were drawn between McConnell’s vow and a speech Schumer gave in 2007 where he stated that he would “recommend to [his] colleagues that [they] shall not confirm any Bush nominee to the Supreme Court.” Schumer has since attempted to clarify his remarks.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have also been subjected to recent scrutiny for their votes against the appointment of Justice Alito to the Supreme Court in 2007, during President Bush’s final year in office.

Here, however, there are important distinctions to be made.

In 2007, President Obama joined a team of Senators supporting a filibuster to block the nomination of Justice Alito after considering his record, past votes, and coming to a conclusion that it was his opinion that Justice Alito was contrary to American values.

Secretary Clinton explained in 2006 that after “[careful] review” of committee hearings and Alito’s extensive records, she decided to vote against the appointment.

These decisions paint a vastly different image of attempting to block even the consideration of a nominee as compared to voting against the appointment of a nominee after consideration and review.  We do democracy a disservice when we conflate the two.

President Obama has stated his intention to fulfill his Constitutional duty to name a nominee to the Supreme Court. We can only hope that Congress will fulfill their duty to represent their constituents, and thoughtfully consider the nominee to the country’s highest Court. Cooler minds prevailed in 2007. They must again now. Our constitution and country demand no less.