The question of who will succeed Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away this weekend, is burning up Washington D.C. Daniel Larison writes in The American Conservative:
Scalia was one of the great conservative jurists of the last century, and he was responsible for shaping conservative jurisprudence during his thirty years on the Court. He was frequently a dissenter on the Court, and he delighted in the role. He acknowledged a few years ago that he hadn’t won many victories during his tenure, but he nonetheless had a considerable and lasting influence on the Court and its decisions.
Senate Republicans appear determined to oppose any nominee that Obama selects regardless of who it is, and the Republican presidential candidates are unanimous that the “next president” should be the one to fill the vacancy. Now that the Senate leadership has declared its opposition to a new nominee before anyone has been chosen, it seems likely that the Senate won’t even go through the motions of a confirmation process this year.
Larison also questions the efficacy of lifetime court appointments if they result in such political panic in the face of a vacancy.
The automatic rejection of a new nominee will leave the Court with a vacancy for a year. While there have been longer vacancies, keeping a vacancy open when it could be filled impairs the functioning of the Court unnecessarily. If the idea of letting the sitting president fill a vacancy on the Court is so horrifying, that should make us question the wisdom of lifetime appointments to the Court. It should worry us that the Court is so powerful that any change in its composition is viewed with such alarm.