President Barack Obama’s list of traits he wants from a new Supreme Court justice reads a bit like a dating profile, and maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.
Over at SCOTUSblog, the president wrote a guest editorial about the current Supreme Court vacancy, outlining what he’s looking for in a nominee. Among the qualifications listed, he writes that he’s looking for somebody with “an independent mind, rigorous intellect, impeccable credentials, and a record of excellence and integrity.”
Also making the list: somebody with “a mastery of the law” who “recognizes the limits of the judiciary’s role” and “judges who approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda, but rather a commitment to impartial justice, a respect for precedent, and a determination to faithfully apply the law to facts at hand.”
Whether you’d swipe right on the president or not, we can all agree that this is a pretty solid-looking profile for a potential addition to the Supreme Court.
Sadly, news out of the Senate Judiciary Committee seems to suggest it has deleted this particular match-making app from their phones.
Here are three reasons the Senate Judiciary Committee needs to stop all the posturing and work with Obama instead of dragging out this nomination.
1. If we’re interested in a truly independent thinker, the best time to have the debate about a new candidate is when the president comes from a different party than the one that controls Congress.
We can all agree that Supreme Court justices shouldn’t be blatantly partisan, right? The best way to ensure a truly independent mind on the court? We need to find a candidate that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on, with both sides making a few ideological concessions here and there.
That’s how we wound up with Justice Anthony Kennedy, and while you’ll find a good number of liberal-minded people willing to say he’s too conservative and vice versa, he’s the de facto “swing vote.”
If Democrats controlled both the Senate and White House, Republicans would be unhappy with the nominee. If Republicans controlled both the Senate and White House, Democrats would be unhappy with the nominee. Maybe that means now is the perfect time to have this debate.
For the good of the country, it’s time we used the c-word — no, not that one: I’m talking about compromise!
Will any person who makes it through the confirmation hearings be the next Antonin Scalia? No, probably not. But they might be the next Kennedy, and honestly, that’s probably better for the country. If we can find somebody who both Democrats and Republicans can agree on (they exist), even if neither side comes away perfectly happy, that’s the person we want deciding our most important questions.
If we wait until after the election, there’s the possibility that both the Senate and White House will be controlled by a single party, and we will again wind up in an awkward position.
2. “We, the people” know that, at the end of the day, politicians will say what they need to say to help their parties whether or not we agree with them.
Through the years, politicians have made a number of statements both for and against filling judicial vacancies. Unsurprisingly, it always seems to work that the party with the most to gain from filling the vacancy tends to find itself on the side of supporting just that while the party that doesn’t, well, doesn’t.
Check it out. Here’s Republican President Ronald Reagan making the case that the Senate (which was controlled by Democrats at the time) should “join together in a bipartisan effort to fulfill our Constitutional obligation“:
And here’s Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) arguing in favor of confirming this nominee (Kennedy) during an election year:
Then there’s Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), who in 2005 urged Democrats to stop obstructing President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
And on the other hand, here’s then-Democratic Sen. Joe Biden in 1992 threatening to do exactly what he, as vice president, asked Republicans in the Judiciary Committee not to do in 2016:
So maybe it’s not the politicians we should listen to? Here’s what Scalia himself had to say about leaving the court with only eight justices:
Basically, “Fill that spot. It’s your job.” Which brings us to the last point…
3. Senate Judiciary Committee, you have one job. This is it.
Nobody says you need to like Obama’s nominee. Nobody says you need to confirm the nominee. But you should at least hold hearings and go on record saying why you don’t like the nominee. The argument that you just don’t replace Supreme Court justices during election years is simply false.
This is politicizing the whole process, and that’s something even the man you’re charged with replacing was against.
Everybody involved in appointing our next Supreme Court justice is coming from a position of good faith and really does want the best for the country.
That’s why it’s so important that we come together, have this debate in public, and yes, compromise. To go back to the dating site analogy, you might not match with the very first person you’re shown, but if you don’t even bother to set up a profile, you never will.
So go on, Senate Judiciary Committee, be open to the idea of a match. You’ve got an important role to play in this process, and I believe you can do it.