This weekend marked the passing of one of the greatest in Supreme Court history, Antonin Scalia. He essentially pioneered the contextualist school of constitutional thought, spreading his teachings throughout the legal world both while on the bench as well as his time spent in the classroom. Contextualism, also called originalism, is the belief that when interpreting the Constitution we should keep the document in the context of its creation to understand the clauses and phrases it contains. This means relying upon documents from the Constitution’s creation being used to define what certain words meant during our nation’s founding, or using journal entries from Thomas Jefferson or any number of the other founders to discern the original intent of the authors. Scalia was the justice who popularized such a legal outlook, and it is because of his legal outlook that he became one of the most consistently conservative voters on the Supreme Court.
But there is an important distinction to make here, and that is his legal understandings of the Constitution influenced his partisan relationship—not the other way around. That is the way it should be, and traditionally has been. The President nominates the most qualified candidate for the job, the person with the best credentials and highest prestige in their field, and the Senate examines then confirms said appointee. It should not be an exercise in partisan warfare to hold up the appointing process, as Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell now wants to do. But he is not alone in wanting to “stop Obama” from carrying out his presidential duties. No, virtually every Republican candidate voiced either outright opposition to the President-elect appointing anyone to the bench, or skepticism that President Obama would be anything but partisan in his appointments.
Sorry, but no. The president — not Congress — appoints those lucky few to the Supreme Court. The Senate may vet, question, and examine who the President picks to make sure they are the best candidate available, but that is not what’s happening today. Instead of acting responsibly, GOP Senators want to play obstructionist yet again by threatening to leave the Supreme Court with an empty seat for 10 months. 10 months without the highest court doing any kind of work, such as determining the legality of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
The Senate, and its Republican leaders, want to politicize an issue that shouldn’t be and I hope won’t be, because this could be a transformative moment. Since his State of the Union Address,
President Obama has repeated time after time how partisanship has only gotten worse during his tenure as President, something he had hoped to end. Scalia’s death provides an opportunity where Republicans and Democrats can work together in finding a Supreme Court Justice agreeable enough for both sides, it is an opportunity for compromise! I hope that President Obama lives by what he preaches and extends a cooperative hand to his colleagues in the Senate, and I hope that the Senate reacts in kind. Because I am kind of tired of the petty partisanship, aren’t you?