President Obama is growing increasingly frustrated with Senate Republicans’ refusal to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, his pick for the Supreme Court following the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia. And during an appearance at the University of Chicago on Thursday, Obama made the case for conservatives to end their unprecedented blockade of Garland and get on with the nomination process.
But more than that, he foreshadowed a future, stemming from conservatives’ insistence that the next president choose the new justice, in which the nomination process becomes entirely political — “a majoritarian exercise of who controls the presidency and who controls the Senate.”
“Nobody has plausibly made the argument that this is not the kind of person we’d want on the Supreme Court,” Obama said during a question-and-answer session with faculty and students. “The question then becomes: Why is it so hard for the guy just to get a hearing and a vote?”
He went on, “What you have here is, I think, a circumstance in which those in the Senate have decided that placating [their] base is more important than upholding their constitutional and institutional rules in our democracy in a way that is dangerous.” He warned that, if he’s succeeded by a Republican, Democrats in the Senate might retaliate against any future nominee by blocking them in kind, which could leave the seat empty for a prolonged period.
Americans are already beginning to see the Supreme Court through a partisan lens, and if the nomination process gets even messier, Obama said it could “erode the integrity of the judicial branch.” “The courts will be just an extension of our legislatures and our elections and our politics,” he said. “At that point, people lose confidence in the ability of the courts to fairly adjudicate cases and controversies.”
Senate Republicans, of course, deny that their refusal to acknowledge Obama’s nominee is about politics at all. But in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday, Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, equated “following the law” with “advancing conservative policy.” “Justices appointed by Republicans are generally committed to following the law,” he said. “But some of the Justices appointed by Republicans often don’t vote in a way that advances conservative policy.” He went on:
If we want the confirmation process to be less divisive, if we want the public to have more confidence that the Justices haven’t exceeded their constitutional role, then the Justices need to demonstrate that in politically sensitive cases, their decisions are based on the Constitution and the law and not on their political preferences.
No doubt the Republican base — the one Obama fears Grassley and others are seeking to placate — would agree.