the harrison review
thinking inside the box
September 26, 2020
no shame in the Senate
In 2016 American voters went to the polls, and their voice was heard with respect to choosing the individual who would serve as President of the United States for the succeeding four years. Having completed their duty, the people saw the presidency of Donald Trump begin at noon on January 20, 2017, and his term will end at the same time on January 20, 2021. During this period, there will not be a time that he is any more or any less the President. The 2020 election, then, will choose a president whose term will begin the following year. I feel like I could teach a 5th grade civics class.
But in 2016 Republican senators adopted the 'gas tank' doctrine, whereby as the presidency nears its end-of-term, it resembles an automobile in need of refueling. Thus, when President Obama in 2016 nominated the Honorable Merrick Garland to fill the Court seat left vacant by the late Justice Scalia, Republicans argued that "the American people should have a voice in this Supreme Court pick." The Republican-held Senate Judiciary Committee thus chose not to hold hearings for the nomination of Mr. Garland. Democrats in 2020 have likewise adopted this messaging, insisting that the court vacancy should not be filled until after the election. But this notion of some imaginary deadline that affects what presidential duties should or should not be performed during an election year is nothing more than political posturing, lacking support in either law or common sense. Americans do indeed deserve a voice in the current Supreme Court pick. This is, in fact, what presidential elections are for. And as it happens, we had just such a contest in 2016.
But perhaps Americans are ready to choose differently than they did in 2016. This is all well and good, and they may do so. And their choice will take effect in the early weeks of 2021. But not before then. Human beings don't particularly enjoy being forced to live with decisions they make, like New Year's resolutions about diet and exercise. But unfortunately (fortunately) not all of life is left to human whim. Thus, the politicians that we elect for a term have the right to fill those roles, exercising all of their established powers, until those terms have completely expired.
Republicans and Democrats alike have participated in this foolishness about waiting until after an election to fill court vacancies, first the Republicans in 2016 and now Democrats in 2020. And Republican senators are currently disgracing themselves in their two-faced hypocrisy. This is precisely what happens when one claims to be acting on principle, when in reality he is acting out of pure self-service. I have in mind especially the leading voices of Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, and none more embarrassing than the 2018 tape we have of Lindsey Graham making every vow short of swearing on people's graves that he would oppose filling a court vacancy during an election season. You too, Lindsey?! For me, that one was particularly painful.
Is principled commitment still even a thing, or are we past that in American politics? Is everything a matter of expediency, whether practical or political or whatever? For any readers with an argument in defense of Republican senators' current words and actions, I am happy to hear it. A very brief treatment of potential rationalizations:
1. We had a divided government in 2016.
Fair enough. And I can imagine a person's adopting this criterion as the determining factor for whether to nominate in an election year. But the grand total of Republican senators who expressed that view in 2016 comes to zero.
2. The Democrats would have done the same thing.
Indeed. And Johnny is right when he says that Susie would have eaten his half of the candy bar had she been given the chance. Our United Senators, apparently, are children.
~~~2 points for the cynics~~~
I recognize the importance of Supreme Court nominations. This is not lost on me, and I celebrate President Trump's nominating three justices to the high court. Perhaps President Trump will nominate Mr. Garland, righting what once went wrong. He has, after all, established a reputation for building bridges. Ahh...I'll allow you a moment to collect yourself. We all needed that good laugh now, didn't we? ■