It is sad but true that the appointment of justices to the U.S. Supreme Court has become little more than an exercise in partisan politics in a bitterly divided nation. The reality is that justices are appointed not for their legal expertise and fair-minded approach to the law, but in hopes they will execute a political ideology from the bench.
Appointments have been political theater for years, including 1987 when Democrats turned down President Ronald Reagan’s nominee, Judge Robert Bork, with such vehemence that his surname became a verb (“Borked”) that means obstructing someone, such as a political nominee, through systematic defamation or vilification.
All that notwithstanding, the Republican-controlled Senate should put politics aside and hold hearings on President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
A president who is as brilliant at politics as he is dreadful in foreign policy, Obama put forth a sound nominee whose long record as a federal judge, and former prosecutor, would appear to be far more moderate than far-left partisans would have desired.
Garland’s selection came after public pronouncements by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the GOP-controlled body would not even hold hearings because the choice should be left to the next president. A gleeful Obama no doubt felt that putting forth a highly qualified, moderate nominee to succeed the recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia would put Republicans in a political dunce hat. He’s right, and the GOP refusal to even meet with Judge Garland is an insult to the American public and to the Constitution.
Certainly, there is political hypocrisy on display by all the politicians concerned, from the president on through Congress. And no one can claim the high ground in Supreme Court jockeying, including members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation. No one should take seriously the suggestion that if the tables were turned and that a President Bush – or Trump – was making the nomination under the exact same circumstances that Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich would be doing anything different than McConnell is now.
In fact, Senate Republicans are citing “the Biden rule” referring to the current vice president’s position against acting on a potential nomination when he was a U.S. senator during the last year of the administration of President George H.W. Bush. Democrats ruled the Senate at that time.
But the bottom line is this: Senate Republicans who are in power have the opportunity to do what is right and show an already angry, distrustful population that we indeed are a nation of laws and that the judiciary can and should be above politics.
That’s what they should do. It’s time to get the process for filling vacancies on the Supreme Court back on the right track. Conduct hearings. Make a decision.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.