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The Supreme Court battle – a fight for survival

LEE A. DANIELS | 2/29/2016, 12:35 p.m.
It was no surprise the Feb. 13 death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia immediately provoked a right-wing frenzy that’s ...
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He collaborated with Rachel Robinson on her 1998 book, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait. NNPA

(George Curry Media) – It was no surprise the Feb. 13 death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia immediately provoked a right-wing frenzy that’s raised the prospect of a constitutional crisis at the highest level of government.

At stake is whether the court will continue to be dominated by the 5-to-4 conservative bloc – of which Scalia was the harshest voice – or swing to a new 5-to-4 liberal majority.

The certainty that President Obama this week will nominate someone who is not a conservative to replace the arch-conservative Scalia has not only undermined the “liberal disaster” rulings widely expected in several significant cases before the court this term. It would also make unlikely a future Supreme Court approving more of the conservative movement’s legal agenda on such issues as abortion rights, affirmative action, voting rights and protections for workers.

That’s why it took only moments after Scalia’s death became known for Republican Party leaders and wannabe presidential candidates to show – again – they’re “conservative” only when it suits their purposes. When it doesn’t, they readily throw the Constitution on the closet shelf and support the most outrageous proposals, the most radical schemes.

So, hoping the November elections will produce a Republican president, conservatives from all corners quickly put on their “Party of No” robes and declared Obama should shirk his constitutional duty and not nominate anyone to fill the Supreme Court seat Scalia had occupied for nearly three decades. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate majority leader, thundered that if Obama ignored the demand, he would refuse to allow a Senate vote on the nominee.

The conservatives’ ostensible argument was that, this being a presidential election and the last year of Obama’s tenure, he should leave bringing the court back to full strength to the next president.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell intoned – thereby ignoring both the Constitution’s directive and the fact that the president and the Senate represent “the people.” Fellow Kentuckian Rand Paul, fresh from his inept GOP presidential primary campaign, provided the week’s comic relief by declaring Obama should forego nominating a new justice because, given that the court considers issues of presidential power, the president has a “conflict of interest” in the matter.

In fact, for all the shock of Scalia’s sudden death, one might say Republicans have been “practicing” for this moment since the 2014 mid-term elections gave them control of the Senate – and its committee chairmanships. As The New York Times reported last week, in the intervening year the president has been able to fill only one vacancy on the country’s 12 regional federal courts of appeal. The reason: Republican senators have junked the tradition of approving ahead of time his nominees for judgeships in their states – thus preventing him from sending nominations to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Such commentators as Paul Waldman wrote this showed the Republican political establishment’s become not just reactionary in its ideology but also amoral about time-honored traditions of American politics.