The American political system has struggled with gridlock since the Republican party gained control of Congress in Nov. 2014. A notable example of this struggle is the current empty seat on the Supreme Court left by the late Antonin Scalia.
The Republican party has vowed to deny President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland—an immensely qualified judge—so much as a meeting, let alone confirmation hearings or a vote. They claim the American people should decide who will fill the spot on the court by voting in the 2016 Presidential election. This is in spite of the fact that the American people already decided when they elected President Obama to a second term. It is also in spite of the fact that nominating and confirming Supreme Court Justices are not duties given by the Constitution to the American people, but to the President and the Senate, respectively.
This justification by Republicans for ignoring one of their main responsibilities was stated in a letter from party heads to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They wrote that they would “not hold hearings on any Supreme Court nominee until after our next President is sworn in on January 20, 2017.”
On Monday, however, Sen. John McCain abandoned that justification altogether and exposed the pure, spiteful partisan politics truly at play. In a radio interview with Philadelphia station WPHT-AM, McCain announced: “I promise you that we (Republicans) will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up. I promise you.”
McCain spokesperson Rachel Dean later backtracked on his statement of blanket rejection, stating that “Senator McCain will, of course, thoroughly examine the record of any Supreme Court nominee put before the Senate and vote for or against that individual based on their qualifications.” However, she negated that reassurance by also stating that “Senator McCain believes you can only judge people by their record and Hillary Clinton has a clear record of supporting liberal judicial nominees.” This, paired with McCain’s later statement that Republicans must hold a Senate majority “as a check and balance to whoever the president of the United States is,” seem to imply that McCain’s original threat is real.
And yes, McCain’s statement is a threat. Actively preventing a Supreme Court nomination is a threat to the functionality of a crucial part of the United States government. The Supreme Court is currently deadlocked, unable to function properly while the longest-sitting Presidential nomination to the court continues to sit. McCain’s words are an affront to the democratic process and the structure of the United States government.
More than just a threat, McCain’s statement is also absurd, outrageous, and obnoxious nonsense. His previous argument was that the American people, not the Senate, should decide the Supreme Court appointment—Constitutional duties be damned. Now, however, we’re let in on a small caveat to that argument: should the American people make the wrong decision, then they matter even less than Constitutional duties.
“A necessity to protect the will of the American people”? Republican leaders aren’t even hiding behind the argument made in their original letter anymore. John McCain’s statement reveals that obstruction of Supreme Court nominees has never been about protecting the will of the American people. The only thing Republicans are trying to protect is their own political power through shameless rejection of their responsibilities.