Cushman: Republicans Should Block Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee


Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gives a speech on the state of the Republican nomination for president at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Thursday, March, 3, 2016. (Tara Lincoln, Daily Utah Chronicle)

By KC Ellen Cushman, Opinion Writer


Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was known as a pioneer of women’s rights. Now though, for many on the left, Justice Ginsburg will also be remembered for her death in the midst of a tense presidential election, and for being replaced by a judge who could destroy much of the progress she spent her life fighting for. Justice Ginsburg is not the first justice to pass away in the midst of an election year. In 2016, Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly, leaving a vacant seat on the court. In his place, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, but Garland’s nomination was ignored by the Republican-majority Senate. Senate leaders insisted that Justice Scalia’s replacement should be chosen by the winner of that year’s presidential race. Republicans looking to maintain the legacy of the Republican party and protect American values should stand by the precedent set in 2016 and block the nomination of a Trump nominee during the 2020 election.

2016: GOP Leaders Set a New Precedent

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended the decision of the body to ignore Obama’s nominee by arguing that the American public deserved to be part of the decision making process. He also said that he believed it was a matter of principle and had nothing to do with who was in the Oval Office or which party they belonged to. His fellow Republican senators stood by him, with many echoing his sentiment that the American people deserved to have a say in the appointments of the justices who interpret their constitutional rights.

In 2016, conservative senators made a stand to supposedly protect the voice of the American public. Now, the death of a prominent Supreme Court justice has once again left a vacant seat on the Court in the midst of an election year. This time, however, our Republican leaders are not willing to put off Supreme Court nomination hearings to protect our voice. If the citizens of this nation deserved to have a voice in who their next Supreme Court justice would be four years ago, we deserve that same opportunity now.

A Shift In Republican Values

Republicans’ decision to disregard Obama’s nominee did not have a constitutional or historical basis or align with our founders’ intent for the judicial branch. The Supreme Court is meant to be an apolitical body that can make decisions free from partisan influence. In the Federalist Papers’ 78th essay, Alexander Hamilton argued that judicial review was a necessary function of the court, but also stressed that judges on the court should have an “independent spirit.” Our constitution, the most fundamental law of our nation, gave the president the responsibility to appoint judges so that they could maintain separation from the ever-changing whims of a Congress that holds elections every two years.

The GOP has continually defended the Founding Fathers’ original intent and the Constitution. In 2016, Republicans were willing to ignore that key party value of constitutionalism, demonstrating that they felt protecting the voice of the American people was more important than certain parts of their ideology. Republican senators who treat Amy Coney Barrett’s recent nomination differently than Garland’s in 2016 are damaging the integrity and reputation of their party by taking away an opportunity for Americans to have a voice in their government. Their actions clearly demonstrate that the goal of their party is not to protect the American people or even adhere to its own precedents but to protect and increase its power. This decision also comes from a party that advocates for First Amendment rights while allowing the president to lock away protesters with impunity and stresses the value of a small government while refusing to check a president who has continually consolidated executive power. A party that continually ignores its own values in pursuit of short-term political success is a party that lacks integrity and is not representing the American people to the best of its ability.

A Dangerous Precedent

In 2016, Senator Dan Sullivan said that the decision to block President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee did not have anything to do with President Obama, but was a matter of principle. He wanted his constituents to have a say in who their next Supreme Court Justice was going to be, and the upcoming election afforded them the ability to do that. Many of his fellow senators reflected similar beliefs. By changing that principle now and not standing by the precedent their party set in 2016, Republicans are making the case that important precedents regarding the function of our government can be ignored by whichever party is in power. That is a sinister proposition. Our democracy should work the same regardless of which party controls the legislative and executive branches at a given time.

Republicans that blocked Obama’s nominee in 2016 should block Trump’s now. The government does not exist to be manipulated by political parties for individual power accumulation. It exists to serve the American people in a way that represents their values. The GOP leaders are using our democratic system as a tool to gain political power that lacks integrity and has not earned the votes of their constituents.


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