From the Daily: Prompt appointment needed

Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 8:57pm

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has caused the already-volatile American political environment to reach a new height. Republicans are now rallying behind the idea that the next president should be the one to nominate a new justice. However, President Obama has the constitutional obligation and right to nominate someone, just as the Republican-controlled Senate has the constitutional obligation to consider that nominee. Inaction on this issue due to overt partisan politics is not the correct solution to this situation, and not a precedent our government should establish.

Furthermore, cases concerning divisive issues such as abortion, affirmative action, contraception, public unions and immigration are all on the docket for this Supreme Court term. By leaving Scalia’s seat vacant, Republicans risk a 4-4 tie on many of these controversial votes. This is a problem because tie votes uphold the decision of the lower court in that court’s respective jurisdiction, which does not establish national precedent. If these cases are heard by an eight-member Court in the term that begins in October, a tie vote would essentially mean the hearings were a waste of the Court's time. It is therefore essential that the Senate fulfills its constitutional obligation by at least considering an Obama nominee.

Republicans argue that a nominee should not be considered during the election cycle. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the rest of the GOP caucus maintain that the people should have a say in choosing a nominee through their vote in November. While Republicans assert that nominating a replacement during an election season is misguided, history disagrees. Throughout history, there have been eight Supreme Court nominations during election season, and six have been confirmed. On average, it takes 25 days to vote on a Supreme Court justice once nominated. Constitutional duties, along with government precedent, should not be suddenly suspended because a presidential election is ongoing.

Obstructing the nomination process not only spurs inflamed partisan divides, but it could also disjoint the normal decision-making process of the Court. The potential for numerous 4-4 split votes on many critical issues will mean the decisions of the lower courts will be upheld within their respective jurisdictions, but the case does not establish precedent for later Supreme Court cases. The American people need and deserve a full Supreme Court so the nation can have closure on issues of such critical importance.

The Republican-controlled Senate must fulfill its obligation to the citizens of the United States and work with the president to confirm a new nominee. The Supreme Court was designed, through lifetime appointments, to stay the test of time and be greater than the political squabbling of our country. The late Justice Scalia himself best exemplified this ideal when he requested that President Obama fill an empty seat with Elena Kagan, now the most liberal member of the Supreme Court. Even though she contradicts Scalia ideologically, he chose her because he believed the Court needed a brilliant, qualified mind arguing the most important issues of our day, regardless of belief.

It is time for Senate Republicans to move past partisanship and do what they were elected to do. Nominating a Supreme Court justice is one of the Senate’s most crucial constitutional obligations and should not be a political fight. Legislators cannot simply abandon their constitutional duties and disrespect two centuries of precedent — their jobs are too important and the stakes are too high.