Jonathan Chait reported something that should surprise no intelligent person, Conservatives Demand Supreme Court Vacancy Be Filled by Next President, Unless That President Is Hillary Clinton. The fate of Merrick Garland hangs in the balance.
The headline overstates what’s going on. It’s just The Wall Street Journal that is saying this. Of course, you can depend upon the fact that the entire Republican establishment is thinking this. I’ve already talked about how they will come up with a new reason why Hillary Clinton can’t appoint a Supreme Court justice either. But what The Journal presents is actually a clever idea, and highlights the fact that Obama still doesn’t really know who he’s dealing with.
As you have probably heard, Obama has nominated Merrick Garland to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court. This is a curious pick for two reasons. First, Garland is a moderate. Second, he’s 63 years old. It’s clear what Obama is doing. He’s saying to the Senate Republicans, “Here’s by far the best justice you are going to get unless you win the general election, which ain’t looking good right now.” I don’ really get it. I keep coming back to John Boehner claiming that he got 98% of what he wanted in the original Debt Ceiling showdown — and still didn’t take it. Does Obama think the Republicans have gotten more reasonable since then?
But this case is even worse. Because Obama has effectively given the Republicans everything they could have asked for. As The Wall Street Journal put it, the Republicans can stall on Merrick Garland’s nomination and then “vote for him in a lame-duck session — if Mrs Clinton wins the election.” So there is no threat for the Republicans. They aren’t facing Merrick Garland or someone younger and more liberal; they are facing Garland as their worst case scenario. That’s actually really bad.
It takes me back to the old days when Obama played the part of Charlie Brown and the Republicans were Lucy. Obama makes a peace offering and the Republicans repay him by acting like he had wounded them. There is no dealing with the Republican Party. It is a revolutionary power. It doesn’t believe in norms. It doesn’t believe in history. It only believes that it should be in power and it doesn’t matter in the least how that goal is managed.
The Irony of Merrick Garland’s Fate
Of course, there is a wonderful irony to all this. Conservatives have conveniently decided that the president should not be allowed to pick a Supreme Court justice in his last year in office, because it should be left up to the people. The people will decide who the next president is, as though they didn’t decide who the current one is. But once conservatives know that they are going to have another president they don’t like, well, that whole last year thing is out the window.
I understand that “politics ain’t bean bag.” But at the same time, what’s going on here isn’t politics; it is governance. And what the Republicans are engaged in regarding Scalia’s replacement is unpatriotic. It’s all about their power. They show no confidence in democracy or the Constitution or anything else. They’ve been trained to know that they can just talk about Obama’s “imperial presidency” without the media countering them. There is no such thing as truth, so it is wrong to allow Obama to nominate a justice on 7 November 2016, but just fine on 9 November 2016.
And Obama, it seems, has fallen into the same old trap of trusting the Republicans to act in any way like normal people.