President Obama wants to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court with an exceptionally well qualified, ideologically moderate, and apolitical nominee. The Republican-controlled Senate — including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman — has no justification for refusing to give the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland a fair hearing and a yes-or-no vote.
If Senator Portman maintains his lockstep partisan obstructionism, Ohio voters will need to keep that in mind this Election Day. Polls suggest that most Ohioans want the high court vacancy filled this year. There is no reason to link a Senate vote to the outcome of the presidential election.
Mr. Garland is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, whose importance in the federal court system is second only to that of the Supreme Court itself. The Senate confirmed his appointment to that court in 1997, by a bipartisan three-fourths majority.
Before that, Mr. Garland was a federal prosecutor who earned praise from both parties for his effective handling of terrorism cases. On the high court, he would succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month.
But Judge Garland’s superb credentials and centrist outlook evidently count for nothing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promptly demeaned both Mr. Garland and the President by insisting that Mr. Obama was making the appointment merely “to politicize it for purposes of the election.” He repeated his insistence that senators are under no obligation to vote or hold confirmation hearings on the nomination, or even meet with the candidate.
The Constitution gives Mr. Obama, like every president before him, the power — and the duty — to appoint Supreme Court justices. It requires the Senate to exercise ”advise and consent” responsibility for such appointments. Mr. McConnell’s novel, and dangerous, constitutional theory is that the Senate can reject presidential nominees to the high court without hearings or a vote.
Echoing Mr. McConnell’s cynical canards, Senator Portman asserts that “it is better for the country to allow the American people to have a voice in this debate.” Americans — including Ohioans — made their voices heard when they re-elected Mr. Obama in 2012; his term has nearly 10 months to run. The senator and his GOP colleagues don’t like that reality, but that disapproval doesn’t entitle them to nullify it.
Senator Portman observes that ”this lifetime appointment could shape the Supreme Court for generations.” That overstates matters, since Judge Garland is 63 years old.
But Mr. Portman and Mr. McConnell allude to what Senate Republicans fear: that Judge Garland’s appointment would end the current hard-right ideological majority on the high court that the GOP favors. Beneath all the posturing and high-minded rhetoric, the Republican resistance is a matter of spiteful partisanship.
Speculation about whom a President Trump or a President Clinton might nominate to the Supreme Court next year is irrelevant. Nor is the issue what Democrats Joe Biden, Harry Reid, and Charles Schumer said years ago about high-court nominations; ”you’re another” is no basis for making sound policy .
Justice Scalia’s seat need not and should not remain vacant until after the election, if the Senate will put its constitutional duties before political games. Senators have an accomplished, distinguished, well-respected, mainstream candidate before them for a vital government post. Ignoring him would be an outrageous default of leadership.
Senator Portman is correct when he recites the Republican talking point: “This is about the principle, not the person.” And the principle remains clear and easily understood: The Senate should do its job, and let the President do his.