Steven Biel: Senate Republicans say they won’t even consider President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, no matter who it is.
A good Maine moderate like you can’t possibly defend this level of obstruction.
Lance Dutson: Moderation and common sense are key in a delicate situation like this. For guidance, I like to look across the aisle at the always rational Joe Biden.
In 1992, Biden took to the Senate floor to provide guidance we all can follow now, saying, “It would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is underway, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over.”
Sound advice from our vice president, wouldn’t you say?
Steven: Oh, please. Joe Biden was chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the election year of 1988 when a Democratic Senate confirmed Ronald Reagan nominee Anthony Kennedy 97-0. His actions mean a lot more than one disingenuous speech.
Lance: One thing that’s clear is that both sides are hypocrites on this issue. But that’s politics. Our system is set up to depend on what James Madison described as ambition being checked by competing ambition.
I don’t have the same breathless worry some have about the actions of either side here. Both sides recognize that this next justice will impact American government for decades, and I don’t blame either for fighting with everything they’ve got.
Steven: “Both sides do it” is the biggest lie in American politics today. On Wednesday, Obama floated the possibility of nominating Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, and even he was shot down. That’s unbelievable.
Here’s what’s really happening: Conservatives have controlled the fifth swing vote on the Supreme Court for almost half a century. As a result, you got Citizens United. Bush v. Gore. The list goes on and on.
Now Senate Republicans are freaking out and walking away from their constitutional duties. It’s shameful.
Lance: You may not like it, but the actions of the Senate Republicans are perfectly constitutional. We have competing ambitions pushing and pulling within the American constitutional system. It’s a beautiful thing, just as the Founders envisioned.
Steven: The first four presidents put 19 justices on the court, and the Senate confirmed them on average in 2.7 days. That’s how the founders thought things should be done.
Lance: Things have changed a lot since the 1700s — thus the “living constitution” concept we hear so many liberals talk about. The specific timeframes of two centuries ago is not a valid comparison.
What is important is the core constitutional concept, and there’s no question the Senate’s advise and consent duties are meant to give a check to the executive for court nominees.
Steven: The core constitutional concept is that presidents get four-year terms, not three. I’ll let you borrow my copy of the Constitution if you want to double check.
Lance: The blame here really rests on Obama. If you don’t have the votes, you have to rely on compromise. He didn’t do that, and now he’s paying the price for poking a stick in the eye of Republicans for the last seven years.
Under Obama’s atmosphere of polarization, the only legitimate referee is the Constitution. And there’s nothing in that document preventing the Senate from doing what it’s doing right now.
Steven: Wait. This is Obama’s fault? That’s absurd.
My biggest worry is that Mitch McConnell is setting a precedent that literally threatens the functioning of the republic. If you can keep a Supreme Court seat vacant for over a year, why not four years?
Pretty soon the only way any Supreme Court vacancy will be filled is when a president’s own party has a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
Lance: I understand that concern, but couldn’t we say that about any of the parliamentary escapades that happened when Harry Reid ran the Senate? Remember the nuclear option eliminating the filibuster for lower court nominees?
Steven: No, you can’t pin this on Harry Reid either. If the “nuclear option” was so awful, why didn’t Mitch McConnell change it back as soon as he took over?
Bottom line, Supreme Court nomination fights are always heated. Our best hope is that cooler heads prevail as they have in the past. Otherwise, between Republican obstruction and Democratic retaliation, Scalia’s seat could go unfilled for years.
Steven Biel is former campaign director for MoveOn.org and president of the Portland-based political consulting firm Steven Biel Strategies. Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.