Like a dry Christmas tree, social media spaces exploded on news of the vacancy left by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Immediately, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called upon Republicans to draw battle lines against any nomination coming from President Obama.
Within hours of Justice Scalia passing, the unseemly speed of McConnell’s announcement was reflective of the polarization that has consistently put partisanship before the legislative work of the nation, plaguing both terms of Barack Obama’s presidency.
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Seizing the political opportunity, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio warned, without reservation, that legislators would not move forward to confirm any nominee President Obama puts forward. Clearly hoping to politically reinvigorate his base, Sen. Rubio is seeking to renew the conservative agenda of limiting abortion rights, ending racial preference program that accept students because of their race or ethnicity and lowering barriers between church and state.
Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation” presidential candidate Bernie Sanders thought it was “beyond comprehension” that Republicans were already threatening to deny Obama this right. “Fair-minded Americans, no matter what their political point of view, will say this is absurd, this is obstructionism and not what democracy, or Congress, is supposed to be about,” Sanders added.
While the Senate musters for a divisive battle to prevent another Obama court nominee, a social media-fueled response is upstaging the traditions of political power. Political narratives are no longer limited to – or even primarily told through – TV networks and major newspapers. From Twitter to Snapchat to Facebook, rapid political response teams were fully engaged within hours of Justice Scalia’s passing.
A String of Disappointments
Across social media platforms, too many Democrats seem willing to assume President Obama will nominate a person who will be good for the people. While the president’s nominations have been acceptable thus far, he has also benefited corporations, banks and Wall Street. He is considered a corporatist who has clandestinely attempted to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The president has actively sought to fast-track passage of the TPP – an objectionable “free trade agreement” which subordinates our sovereign legal system to a panel selected by transnational corporations.
Consider too, the number of bankers that have faced criminal prosecution and all that the president could have done by way of executive and regulatory action – he didn’t need congressional cooperation. Instead, the president rewarded many Wall Street insiders with positions within his administration.
The president’s support for National Security Agency spying on Americans and a history of aggressive responses toward whistleblowers doesn’t suggest magnanimity in this area of constitutional concern, either.
Also, nothing has happened on President Obama’s reelection campaign promise to pursue a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court opinion that allowed corporations to spend unlimited money on politics. While it may well be that pursuing a constitutional amendment would have met with congressional obstruction, again, nothing prevented this president from executive actions that favored tougher campaign disclosure regulations on federal contractors.
The president’s inaction follows a string of disappointments begging the question: Do we want another judge that considers corporations to have the same rights as people or who supports Citizen’s United?
A Warning to the Unsuspecting
Forty-two percent of Obama’s judicial appointments have gone to women, which is a substantial improvement over the appointments of both Presidents Clinton and Bush. Beyond diversity, Obama’s influence on the courts seems substantively hazy, and in the midst of an already highly politicized vacancy, partisanship should not ignore the concerns of people who stand to suffer the consequences for decades.
Obama served as president of the Harvard Law Review (Class of 1991) and spent over a decade teaching at the University of Chicago law school. He didn’t write law-review articles or seek a tenure-track as a legal academic. He taught classes once a week while pursuing outside opportunities. Yet, he is professorial when it come to law – a warning to the unsuspecting. In other words, he knows exactly what he is doing in this arena.
Thus far, and with mixed success, the president has attempted to define his presidency as an exemplar of common sense against the extremism of the contemporary Republican Party. It is a fact that may allow Americans to lose sight of what is most important in filling this Supreme Court vacancy: a judge grounded in professional competence and personal integrity. More important than the judicial legacy of this president is what the American people will endure for decades if these battles prevail solely for the sake of partisanship of either party.
If, on the other hand, Republicans truly believe President Obama has displayed contempt for the Constitution, they may claim a moral obligation to reject his nominee. The gamble here is really on the Republican Party further motivating millennial voters, who aren’t likely to outgrow their liberal tilt anytime soon and now match the boomers share of the electorate.
In fact, millennial voters will likely determine Barack Obama’s successor and just may prefer that Republicans stonewall for a Bernie Sanders nominee. It’s a sword with two political edges – beware!