The Supreme Court and the Norms of American Political Behavior

To follow up on yesterday’s post about the nomination to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, I want to point out a few articles that I found noteworthy in the day since.

However, I want to start with this series of tweets, because it says something that’s puzzled me about the events of Saturday. My commentary will follow.

Matthew Gertz raises an interesting point — why did the Senate Republicans say anything at all about what they intended to do (or, rather, not do) with regards to any attempt by the president to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court?

I think that both of the theories Gertz profers are possible, but I’d like to suggest a third — once Senators started making statements that they didn’t intend to confirm any Supreme Court justice, Mitch McConnell felt his hands were tied, and thus this became the message. Gertz is correct that if the Republicans had said nothing, they could have achieved the same result without getting their hands dirty. Now, everyone knows what they’re intending to do and why they’re doing it.

Now, this piece from Media Matters‘s Eric Boehlert on the media’s complicity in enabling the Senate Republicans to stake out this unprecedented position is important. Here’s the key passage:

Again and again, the press has depicted Obama’s expected action in the wake of Scalia’s death as being highly controversial or partisan, when in fact it’s Republicans who are acting in erratic ways by categorically announcing they’ll refuse to even consider Obama’s next Supreme Court pick.

The sad part is this type of media acquiescence has become a hallmark of the Obama era. Republicans have routinely obliterated Beltway precedents when it comes to granting Obama the leeway that previous presidents were given by their partisan foes in Congress.

Yet each step along the way, journalists have pulled back, refusing to detail the seismic shift taking place. Instead, journalists have portrayed the obstruction as routine, and often blamed Obama for not being able to avoid the showdowns.

MSNBC’s Steve Benen looks at how the Republicans are discarding the norms that have made American government function: “The way in which Senate Republicans are now responding to a Supreme Court vacancy is plainly indefensible for any objective observer, but it’s part of a broader pattern of abuses in which norms and traditions no longer have value in the contemporary GOP’s eyes. In the post-Civil War era, the idea of the Senate majority imposing a blockade on filling a high court vacancy — rejecting any nominee, sight unseen — driven entirely by one party’s contempt for a sitting two-term president, seems absurd. And yet, here we are, and because norms have been gradually disappearing in recent years, no one seems especially surprised.”

Finally, Josh Marshall considers the success by the Republicans at normalizing unprecedented behavior, such as the claim that Supreme Court justices aren’t confirmed in the president’s final year in office.

The last time there has been a vacancy of the length the GOP now proposes was more than 170 years ago. And even that was in the face of repeated rejections of nominees — not a flat refusal to entertain nominations — and with a President whose very legitimacy was under something of a cloud. By any honest analysis, none of the ‘precedents’ Republicans have whipped up in the last three days really speak to the present issue at all. As one reader noted, is there any other example in all of American history of a president deferring a key decision or prerogative to his successor except during the lame duck period between the election and inauguration of the next President. The answer: no, never. We have one president at a time.

Finally, Paul Waldman in The American Prospect considers what the fight over Scalia’s replacement says about the “electability” argument on the Democratic side of the presidential ledger.

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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