“Given the huge divide in the country, and the fact that this President, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda, it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court Justice.”
That was Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Feb. 13 telling the American people in no uncertain terms that his committee would not allow any Supreme Court nominee by Obama to the Senate floor to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
In other words, whoever Obama might nominate to replace Scalia is all but dead on arrival.
Grassley might not even have a hearing on the nominee. When asked about the possibility of a hearing, Grassley told reporters on Feb. 16, “I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decision. In other words, take it a step at a time.”
“But,” Grassley added, “I think you need to know that I have made a statement, and a lot of other Republicans have made a statement that this is a very serious position to fill and it should be… debated during the campaign and filled by either Hillary Clinton, Senator [Bernie] Sanders or whoever’s nominated by the Republicans and make this important decision a very important part of the election coming up.”
Got it? The outcome of the election will determine who gets to pick the next Supreme Court Justice. No ambiguity. For those opposed to filling the Scalia seat prior to the next president being sworn in, Grassley’s is actually a very positive statement.
Grassley went on to cite a July 2007 statement by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that then-President George W. Bush should not be allowed to appoint any more Supreme Court spots during the remainder of his term except during “extraordinary circumstances.”
As Grassley said, “I think that since [Schumer] thought that the balance on the Supreme Court was so important that particular year that we’re very consistent with [the] philosophy that he expressed.”
As it turns out, Bush never went on to appoint any new Justices after Schumer’s July 2007 statement simply because the opportunity never presented itself. But, Grassley told reporters, the principle still stands.
“It is a very important position because Senator Schumer talked about balance and we had balance: 4 conservatives, 4 liberals and 1 moderate, and maintaining that balance for the Supreme Court is just as important now as it was in 2007.”
So, who would Obama appoint? When asked if he would appoint a moderate Justice by Reuters reporter Jeff Mason at a Feb. 16 press conference, President Obama laughed and gave an emphatic, “No.”
Well, since Scalia was a conservative, and Obama is indicating he will appoint a liberal, allowing that nominee to be confirmed by the Senate necessarily would mean changing the balance of the nation’s highest court.
Post-Scalia, there would be a liberal majority on the court, with only 3 conservatives and 1 moderate.
Grassley is right.
Of course Obama would like to fill that slot. But the Senate is under no obligation to rubber stamp that nominee with so much at stake.
So why not leave it up to the American people? Do voters like the balance of the court of the past several years, or would they rather have a more liberal court in the future? 2016 could very well be a referendum on that and other issues.
But only if Senate Republicans hold the line. First and foremost, that will be determined by Chuck Grassley. If he keeps his embargo on whoever Obama nominates, and the Senate does not fall into recess, Obama can appeal to the American people all he wants, but the nomination will be dead before a hearing even happens.
Yes, elections have consequences. And Republicans actually won the Senate majority in 2014. It is something Grassley will need to remember this year as the pressure is ratcheted up on him and his Senate colleagues to rubber stamp’s Obama’s pick for the court.
This is Chuck Grassley’s moment. The one that will define his time in the Senate. If he stands his ground to stop the Obama Supreme Court nominee, it could change the course of not only the nation but of history itself.