Congressional partisanship and the U.S. Supreme Court


If I were to cover President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Las Vegas, I would have just one question: Mr. President, how do you plan to overcome the ugly and paralyzing partisanship in Congress when it is time to nominate replacements for liberal Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 76, and 89-year-old John Paul Stevens?

While neither justice has announced a pending retirement, legal tongues are wagging. Ginsberg is in suspect health and Stevens declined to hire a full complement of clerks this term.

Clearly, President Obama would relish the opportunity to replace conservatives like Samuel Alito or Clarence Thomas, but those men are healthier than either Ginsberg or Stevens, and it is a certainty political types have encouraged the five conservative on the high court to remain at least until Obama leaves office.

It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on, the nasty politics that has invaded the confirmation process -- and infected every other facet of running the nation in recent years -- threatens us more than any foreign terrorist ever could.

The upside for those interested in seeing the pendulum swing back to center is this: Two vacancies at the same time are rare, but history shows Obama might be able to squeeze one through without much argument.

That was the case when President Ronald Reagan successfully ushered in William Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia in 1986. The Rehnquist nomination was a battle for conservatives while Scalia, perhaps shockingly in hindsight, slipped through without objection.

Then again, the gridlock in today’s Washington D.C., didn’t exist in 1986, did it?

Read more about this topic from the National Law Journal’s Tony Mauro.