Steve Hansen: Politicians at odds over Supreme Court vacancy

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By Steve Hansen

QCS Former Managing Editor

The political world is in turmoil.

The Republicans have vowed to block any of President Obama’s nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Democrats are saying that would block the president’s constitutional authority.

I am stifling a yawn. It’s politics as usual.

Anybody remember Robert Bork?

Conservative President Reagan nominated Bork for the high court in July 1987. Senate Democrats rebelled. Bork’s nomination was abandoned that October after a monumental battle.

Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy, a current Supreme Court justice, in following month, but Kennedy did not join the high court until the next February. Kennedy has become the court’s “swing” vote,” favoring neither liberals nor conservatives.

The more recent fight over current Justice Clarence Thomas got downright nasty with testimony about hair on a soda can. Thomas, of course, prevailed.

History’s longest Supreme Court vacancy was 391 days, according to Politifact, a political website. That occurred after Justice Abe Fortas resigned in May 1969. His successor, Harry Blackmun, was not sworn in until June 1970 after two big battles. He was known as a liberal but was nominated by Republican President Richard Nixon.

So, we’ve been down this road before. Obama has the authority and motivation to nominate a Supreme Court Justice. The Senate has the motivation and authority to block a nominee. The Constitution and history say both.

If I were Obama, I would nominate the best-qualified moderate I could find and dare the Senate not to confirm the nominee. It would make a great campaign issue.

If I were the Republicans, I would favor an acceptable nominee, but only an acceptable one, instead of blocking any Obama choice out of hand. GOP victory in November is not a given.

In recent history, however, Supreme Court justices have almost always recognized their first duty is to advance Constitutional law, not their “liberal” or “conservative” labels.

A recent Wall Street Journal study shows even the most liberal and conservative justices agree with each other at least 60 percent of the time.

Supreme Court justices have routinely shown their loyalty to the Constitution is greater than fealty to the politics of the moment, and in that we can take comfort.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at:

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