Antonin Scalia is gone. The nastiest and noisiest of the Supreme Court’s right wingers is dead.
But he can’t be any more brain dead than Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate. In a blatantly partisan ploy to prevent President Obama from nominating a justice to succeed Scalia, McConnell has claimed a historical precedent dictating that a President in the last year of his term must not name a new justice to the high court. “Therefore,” he babbled, “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”
What a silly old squirrel McConnell is! Article II of the U.S. Constitution plainly states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . judges of the Supreme Court.” Note that the Constitution says the President “shall” do this—as a duty to the nation. Nothing in the founding document suggests that this power and duty is voided in an election year.
In fact, according to Neil J. Kinkopf of Georgia State University College of Law, “Presidents have made twenty-two nominations to fill Supreme Court vacancies during an election year. In addition, Presidents have made thirteen lame duck nominations—nominations made after an election had chosen a new President-elect but before that new President-elect was inaugurated.” McConnell’s assertion is bogus (and silly), for history and the Constitution clearly back Obama.
Ironically, one who would have nailed McConnell for such a slapstick political perversion of plain constitutional language is Scalia himself. He practiced what he called “originalism,” insisting that the Constitution must be interpreted only by the words in it and the original meaning those words had for the Founders when they wrote them into the document.
McConnell’s squirrelly stall tactic is as ridiculous as it is shameful. It’s also totally hypocritical, since Mitch himself voted in February 1988 to confirm a Supreme Court nominee put forth by Ronald Reagan—in the last year of his presidency.
This leads me to ask: Why should you and I keep paying McConnell’s salary? Not only is he a Senate Majority Leader who doesn’t lead, but the lazy rightwing lawmaker refuses to pick up the legislative tools he’s been given and work on the many things that We the People—and America itself—need Congress to do.
Instead, McConnell says no to every task at hand. Repair and replace the water pipes that leach lead and are poisoning families all across America? No, he yawns. Raise the minimum wage to help bridge the dangerous wealth gap separating the super-rich from the rest of us? Don’t bother me with such stuff, Mitch snaps. Shut off that gusher of corrupt corporate money pouring into our elections and drowning the people’s democratic rights? Not my problem, he shrugs.
We’re paying this guy $193,000 a year to be Majority Leader. It’s insulting that he won’t even go through the motions of doing his job. Of course, saying no to all the chores he ought to be doing for the people is exactly what the corporate sponsors of his Republican Party expect from him. They want an inert and unresponsive government, a poverty-wage economy, a plutocratic election system, and a court of their own choosing.
So “Do Nothing” Mitch is their boy. But shouldn’t they at least pay his salary, rather than sticking us with the cost? ω
Jim Hightower produces The Hightower Lowdown newsletter and is the author, with Susan DeMarco, of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow.