One day, a movie is going to be made about the 2016 presidential race.
What has already been a raucous, combative election campaign that’s entertained and horrified all at once was dealt its biggest plot twist yet on Saturday — the death of a Supreme Court justice, leaving a gaping vacancy in our nation’s foremost judiciary.
Antonin Scalia, who served three decades on the court, was known for his steadfast conservatism and propensity to treat every decision by the letter of the law. His tendency to invoke the literal meaning of the Constitution in every single case made him a heroic legal figure to conservatives and, conversely, an obstruction of progress in the minds of liberals.
Whichever it was, there was no doubting his influence on American policy for an entire generation.
His absence leaves four liberal and four conservative justices apiece, meaning whoever fills Scalia’s gap could essentially tip the scales of judicial balance as the tiebreaker in all major decisions moving forward. Among those decisions coming up soon include cases on abortion, immigration, affirmative action and the Affordable Care Act.
It’s the president’s responsibility to replace Supreme Court justices, as chartered by the Constitution. Democratic presidents choose liberal judges, and Republicans choose conservatives. It’s the way it’s always been. President Obama has already chosen two justices since he took office.
And the U.S. Senate majority has said it will do everything in its power to make sure he does not choose a third.
Scalia’s death turned into a political issue almost immediately. Republican presidential candidates and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said it’s inappropriate for a lame duck president to choose a Supreme Court justice, and that they would use whatever tactics necessary to delay an Obama appointment.
Now this is where an egregious display of hypocrisy comes in.
Republicans are citing the so-called, unwritten “Thurmond Rule” — named after former U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, whose greatest legacy was his devotion to protect segregation by unsuccessfully thwarting the passage of the Civil Rights Act — which says a president should not choose a Supreme Court justice during the final months of his term.
Disregarding the fact that there is still nearly a full year left in Obama’s term, it’s worth noting that historically, the Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a justice after their nomination. As of this writing, there are 340 days left until the next president takes office.
Obama has already said he will fulfill his duty by appointing a nominee in the coming weeks. Other Democratic Senators have lambasted the Republicans’ threats to stall the process as an abdication of their oath of office, while noting the hypocrisy in that, as fervent defenders of the Constitution, they are ignoring that very document if they pursue this strategy.
Republicans say it’s been 80 years since a lame duck president has filled an open Supreme Court seat. What they’re conveniently forgetting is that Justice Anthony Kennedy, an appointment by President Ronald Reagan in late 1987, was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in February of 1988, an election year.
Last point: Mitch McConnell, in 2008, said during a Senate session that the Democratically-controlled Senate should disregard the Thurmond Rule and consider any lower court nomination under then lame duck President George W. Bush. Now that the tables have turned, he’s not singing quite the same tune.
Those are the facts. Make of it what you will.
All I can say is, coming to a theater near you in 10 years from now — “2017: The Race to the White House” directed by Ben Affleck.
I’m just eager to see what white actor Hollywood chooses to play Obama.