There is a delicious irony in the fact that Justice Antonin Scalia, the most influential member of the Supreme Court who, singlehandedly, maneuvered the selection of George W. Bush to be President of the United States in 2000, and built a rabid cult following by crusading against a women’s right to choose and in favor of the right to carry guns, will, in death, become the most important factor in the election of Hillary Clinton as the first female President of the United States, a staunch advocate for strict gun controls.
Scalia’s death, 30 years after being appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, couldn’t come at a better time for both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Overnight, all other issues have been swept aside; the focus is now exactly where Hillary has always wanted it to be—on the Supreme Court and who can be entrusted to appoint the most qualified & reasonable justices. Nothing anyone else may have said or done, on the Right or Left, could catapult this issue into the forefront of the 2016 Presidential campaign the way Scalia’s death has done.
What lies ahead, as the New York Times phrased it, is “a titanic confirmation struggle, fueled by ideological interest groups,” and it’s one which extremists on either fringe will lose. Barack Obama and both Bill & Hillary Clinton, all well-educated lawyers and students of the Supreme Court, know this intuitively. It’s why Bill Clinton’s nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme Court was such a masterstroke. She was a jurist with impeccable credentials, and was approved by a 96-3 Senate vote in 1993, less than one year after Clinton was elected.
Ignore the brainless brayings of Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio that “the American people should have a voice,” as a rationale for delaying a confirmation vote of a new nominee until 2017. The last time the full, national voice of the American people was heard was in 2012 when Barack Obama handily won re-election. Votes for U.S. Senators, or Members of Congress, are regional votes, and regardless of how they are spun, or what an endless array of polls may predict, they never represent the voice of “the American people.” Only Presidential elections do that.
“Poppy” Bush certainly knew that, when, on the cusp of the 1992 Presidential election, he nominated Clarence Thomas to fill a vacancy created by the declining health and retirement of the first African American Justice Thurgood Marshall. Thomas, one of the most poorly qualified nominees and worst justices in the Court’s history, was confirmed by a Judiciary Committee chaired by Joe Biden, and a Senate controlled by Democrats, 52-48.
Obama is duty-bound by the U.S. Constitution to fill the vacancy on the High Court as soon as possible. As Linda Hirshman brilliantly points out in the Febuary 14, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/02/13/if-republicans-block-obamas-supreme-court-nomination-he-wins-anyway/?postshare=6331455471287593&tid=ss_fb-bottom :
“…the GOP might soon reconsider if they see the implications of refusing to allow Obama to replace Scalia: A divided court leaves lower court rulings in place. And the lower courts are blue. Nine of the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals have a majority of Democratic appointees.”
A legal scholar and constitutional law professor like Obama has too high a regard for the Supreme Court’s place in American history to leave the post vacant, and he has an abundance of highly qualified choices. The leading contender is Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit, confirmed by the U.S. Senate just three years ago, by a 97-0 vote—including the votes of Senators Mitch McConnell, Charles Grassley AND…Ted Cruz.
The added political benefit of a Srinivasan nomination—both for Obama and for Hillary Clinton—is that he would be the first nominee of Southeast Asian ancestry and the child of Indian immigrants. Rabid Right Wing attacka on “Sri” would drive people of color further away from the GOP. Plus, Judge Srinivasan’s history of clerking for Reagan appointed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and his impeccable legal credentials, would guarantee that his opponents would be isolated on the Far Right fringe.
In the Democratic primary campaign for President, Scalia’s death doubles-down on the issue of “electability.” If Obama cannot get a nominee through the Senate before Election Day, 2016, will Democrats want to take the chance that Bernie Sanders could win a national election? Notwithstanding the fact that Hillary Clinton already has half of the 750 Democratic Super Delegates locked up, it’s increasingly unlikely Bernie will be the choice– especially when future Supreme Court rulings on a woman’s right to choose—and the increased visibility of the three superb female Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Kagan—will underscore why the Presidency of Hillary Clinton is a watershed opportunity in American history which simply cannot be ignored.
And, we have Antonin Scalia to thank for it.