Death of SC Justice turns election into referendum on the cultural issues that divide the nation
Morning Brief: TNM will be closed for the President’s Day holiday in the US, returning on Tuesday unless events warrant posting the news
Today is President’s Day in the US, a government created holiday that combines the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln into one officially recognized holiday. The holiday is mostly known for retailers putting mattresses on sale – I’ve never really understood the connection between the two presidents and mattresses, but the two are tied together for some reason.
This weekend, as I’m sure everyone is aware, the already crazy US Presidential election imploded. Until now, each party ran their own races based on the issues they considered most important: race, in the case of the Republicans; and money, in the case of the Democrats. Every issue revolved around those two things.
Few thought, up until Saturday, that the selection of the next President would settle other issues such as abortion, contraception, voting rights, gay rights, the role of money in politics, etc. Sure, those issues were discussed, but the President only has so much power. It is the Supreme Court that often decides these other issues.
Then Justice Antonin Scalia died. He was 79, and though most would not be surprised at the death of someone that age, his sudden death sent shock waves through the country. The assumption many had was that should the next President be a Democrat they would likely be faced with nominating a new SC justice that would replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who is 82 and looks to be the most frail of the older justices. Such a nomination would be seen as not chasing the make-up of the court, not tilting the balance towards liberals. But a Democrat replacing Scalia in another thing – especially in the minds of the Republicans.
That is why the US is about to have a Constitutional crisis. For the final 11 months the Senate will refuse hold hearings on any candidate for the becky that President Obama puts toward. (In the US, the Presidents nominates the justices to the Supreme Court, but the Senate confirms them.)
Although it is understood that no President should nominate judges to the bench as they are leaving office, the President still has nearly one-quarter of his term still ahead of him. Surely the Congress cannot simply run out the clock and deny the right of the President to nominate a replacement, right?
But before the President could even extend his condolences to the justice’s family, Senator Mitch McConnell, majority leader of the Senate, declared that the chamber would not consider any nomination put forward by the President, arguing that the next President, who will not be sworn in for 11 months, should do it. That means the vacancy would not be filled for at least a year, likely longer.
Republicans candidates for President quickly agreed, turning the next election into a referendum on the Court, and therefore on all the major cultural issues the device the nation. The last time the nation faced such a stark decision when voting for President was in 1860.
TNM will take the rest of the day off for the President’s Day holiday (unless a major story breaks, of course).