Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Supreme Sacrifice

President Obama may name his choice for the vacancy on the Supreme Court as early as today.

WASHINGTON — President Obama is close to a decision on a Supreme Court nominee based purely on qualifications and experience, White House officials insisted on Monday, but the president’s allies said that political considerations — including whether a nominee had an easily defensible record or appeal to Republicans — were clearly part of Mr. Obama’s calculus.

Speculation now centers on three potential nominees, all federal circuit court judges: Sri Srinivasan, 49, who was confirmed in 2013 with a 97-to-0 vote; Merrick B. Garland, 63, a moderate who has been a finalist in Mr. Obama’s previous Supreme Court searches; and Paul J. Watford, 48, a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California.


Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said Mr. Obama must decide whether to pick a “grand-slam” candidate — one like Judge Srinivasan, who is young, moderate and could have a profound effect on the court — or a “sacrifice fly,” like Judge Watford, an impressive judge whose positions on the death penalty and immigration would draw criticism from conservatives but whose nomination could exact a political price from Republicans who oppose him.

“The Obama White House are the ultimate practitioners of realpolitik — they have to be making a careful calculus, but the real question is not how do they win, it’s what game are they playing?” Mr. Turley said.

I don’t think anyone is in favor of picking someone solely on the basis of daring the Senate not to confirm them — as if Clarence Thomas wasn’t picked to replace Thurgood Marshall based on that consideration — but that’s what’s happening here.  And as I noted before, the one distinction that the nominee will have is that ten years from now they will be the answer to a presidential trivia question.

However… if the Republicans are so insistent that the “American voters have a say,” which they already did in 2012 when President Obama was re-elected, the Democrats could parlay the GOP obstructionism to their advantage.  Let the vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents run against an energized Democratic base, especially if the candidate is Donald Trump, and see how willing they are to sacrifice their career for a party that is basically saying “the N- don’t get to choose.”