GOP Senate stall on Scalia replacement may backfire

By George Ochenski

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died at a posh Texas resort on Feb. 13 and President Obama will now have to nominate his successor. Despite a constitutional mandate to act to either confirm or deny Obama’s nominee, the Republican-led Senate has already said they will not approve a replacement until the next president takes office in 2017. Given the extremely low esteem in which the general public holds the Republican Congress, jumping to block any Obama nominee prior to considering their merits is only likely to increase the disdain for the GOP’s partisan, ideology-driven attempt to avoid the Senate’s duty to provide the nation with a functioning Supreme Court.

Sticking to the old saw that you “shouldn’t speak ill of the dead,” suffice it to say that Scalia’s passing is not particularly mourned by millions of Americans. Fact is, the Roberts Court, with its 5-4 conservative majority, has inflicted untold damage on the nation. Not the least of that damage, but perhaps the one with the greatest long-term impacts, was the court’s split decision in Citizens United, in which the conservative majority anointed corporations with personhood, opening the door to even more corruption and political manipulation by the billionaire class.

But of course corporations are not people. As a funny bumper sticker proclaimed: “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.” In fact, corporations came into existence precisely to shield the people who own and run them from legal prosecution for crimes. That they could and would wield undue power has long been both recognized and feared.

More than two centuries ago Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and third president, saw the dangers arising from the collusion of big business and big money, writing: “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

It’s therefore no secret why the Senate’s Republicans don’t want to confirm a new Supreme Court justice to replace Scalia — namely, Obama might nominate someone who may just move the balance of the court’s votes in a less conservative direction. Were that to happen, it’s not a long shot to see the Citizens United decision being overturned, much to the dismay of the Republican’s much-loved corporatocracy and its almost unlimited financial power to get “the best government money can buy.”

The problem is that the Supreme Court, at the very top of the judiciary branch of government, must continue to do its job as the “checks and balances” on both the executive and legislative branches of government. As we have already seen all too clearly, without its slim majority of conservative justices, the Roberts Court will likely be gridlocked in a series of 4-4 decisions.

Given the much-disdained gridlock between Congress and President Obama that has largely paralyzed the legislative and executive, why would anyone think the best thing for our nation would be to have all three branches of government gridlocked?

More to the point, why would any politician, in a presidential election year, think stonewalling a Supreme Court replacement for Scalia would garner either respect or votes from a public already disgusted with such blatant partisan behavior?

And therein, as they say, lies the rub. Sure the GOP’s Senate majority can deny President Obama his rightful opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice of his choosing. Even one senator can filibuster or put a hold on confirmation under the Senate’s rules, but to what end? Are the Republicans so absolutely sure they’ll wind up with one of their own in the White House after November’s elections? If so, they’re living in a dreamland where the growing frustrations of the populace — and the increasing number of polls reflecting the same — have not yet caught up with their myopic strategy.

With nearly a year left in President Obama’s final term in office, the GOP’s Senate stall on Scalia’s replacement seems fraught with political risk. The American people are paying taxes to fund a working government that serves them, not the partisan, ideological or financial interests of a small handful of conservative politicians in the Senate. Voters may just decide to “throw the bums out” if Senate Republicans don’t want to do the constitutionally mandated job for which they are being paid. Given the overwhelming disapproval of our dysfunctional Congress, that might just be the best outcome.

George Ochenski writes political commentaries for the Missoulian newspaper in Montana. He resides in Helena, Montana.