SPOTLIGHT

The Supreme Court Gambit

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., right, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, walks with Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 17, 2016. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been steadfast in his refusal to hold a confirmation hearing for any nominee during the waning months of Obama’s presidency.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
March 18, 2016, 11 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama’s nom­in­a­tion Wed­nes­day of Mer­rick Gar­land to the Su­preme Court came 180 years and one day after the Sen­ate con­firmed Ro­ger Taney as chief justice of the United States on a 29-15 vote. Taney had been nom­in­ated three months earli­er, on Dec. 28, 1835, by Pres­id­ent An­drew Jack­son, who did not seek reelec­tion in 1836. Obama is un­likely to get the same out­come in his fi­nal year in the White House, at least not un­til the next pres­id­en­tial elec­tion has come.

— While polls show a ma­jor­ity of voters say the nom­in­ee should re­ceive a vote, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s ar­gu­ment against it is that while Obama won the 2012 elec­tion, Re­pub­lic­ans were clearly the pre­ferred party in 2014, pick­ing up nine Sen­ate seats and ex­pand­ing their House ma­jor­ity. While that wasn’t a na­tion­al elec­tion, Re­pub­lic­ans’ con­trol of the Sen­ate gives them the right not to con­sent to Obama’s pick — and they prefer to let the next pres­id­ent nom­in­ate someone. “The Amer­ic­an people de­serve a voice,” Mc­Con­nell said in a USA Today op-ed. And the pres­sure from Obama and Sen­ate Demo­crats is un­likely to change his mind.

— That’s of course a risky gam­bit, with Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump at this point the two most likely to serve as the next pres­id­ent. Trump is a wild card, and Clin­ton could nom­in­ate someone more lib­er­al than Gar­land. But in case of a Clin­ton vic­tory, Re­pub­lic­ans have left open the pos­sib­il­ity of a lame duck con­firm­a­tion for Gar­land, which fur­ther en­raged Demo­crats.

— Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id linked the battle over the Su­preme Court nom­in­a­tion to Trump and ar­gued it will be det­ri­ment­al to the GOP’s already tenu­ous hold on the Sen­ate ma­jor­ity. “Time will only tell, but I can’t ima­gine how this is go­ing to help the Re­pub­lic­ans who are run­ning for the Sen­ate,” Re­id said Thursday in a speech at the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress. His ad­dress came just as sen­at­ors headed home for a two-week re­cess, when Re­id hopes they will hear it from voters.

But Re­pub­lic­ans are bet­ting that turn­ing off their con­ser­vat­ive base by Obama get­ting a third Su­preme Court justice con­firmed would be far more det­ri­ment­al to their chances in Novem­ber than what the party will see from the gen­er­al elect­or­ate for delay­ing. The party is already deal­ing with sig­ni­fic­ant fis­sures among its voters and faces the po­ten­tial for a con­tested con­ven­tion. In four months, Trump as Re­pub­lic­an stand­ard bear­er could be its new real­ity, and the fal­lout from that re­mains the most in­triguing un­known of 2016.

Kyle Tryg­stad

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