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Senators must live up to their oath, or quit

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is a disgrace to the Senate, a traitor to his oath and, if he retained the slightest vestiges of decency, would resign immediately.

News of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday had hardly been announced when McConnell — displaying the gracelessness for which he should forever be associated — issued a news release mourning Scalia that included one small, bold-face addendum: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Actually, the American people did have a voice — and they spoke in 2012 when they re-elected President Barack Obama, who has indicated he will not delay in making a nomination. That’s as it should be, since Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution says the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate … judges of the Supreme Court.”

That may be news to some, however: Five-sixths of the Republican presidential candidates during Saturday’s debate sided with the mincing McConnell and agreed that Obama should not be allowed to exercise his constitutional prerogative. (Only Jeb Bush got the question right, saying “I’m an Article II guy.” Nice at least to have one around.)

There were other Republican voices saying the president’s nominee should be rejected, sight unseen. For the record, anyone in federal elected office who advises ignoring a presidential nomination or rejecting a nominee before that person’s name is even announced is simply unfit to hold office. This applies especially to sitting Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who is a former Supreme Court clerk and ought to know better.

Some may argue that Democrats have done the same in the past, and would again if the circumstances were reversed. It must be said in reply: So what? It’s wrong for any elected official, regardless of party, to spurn the Constitution, and the alleged bad acts of one cannot justify similar bad acts of another. That’s a playground argument serious people should easily dismiss.

Here in Nevada, the two people running for U.S. Senate — who may one day be called upon to offer their advice and consent on high court nominees — differed on their approach to filling the Scalia seat.

“Voting on presidential appointments isn’t a perk senators get to enjoy at their leisure — it’s part of their job description. Partisan politics should not get in the way of filling a vacancy on the highest court in the land,” said Democratic candidate Catherine Cortez Masto, in a statement.

Her Republican opponent, Rep. Joe Heck, appeared less enthusiastic about the prospect of an election-year nominee: “Lifetime appoints are not to be taken lightly or hastily,” he said in his own statement. “It is not uncommon, in the final months of a presidency, for the Senate to wait for the results of the pending election before filling vacancies. The president has the right and prerogative to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia, just as the Senate has the right and prerogative to confirm or not confirm the president’s nominee. Each entity should exercise its prerogative.”

Indeed, they should, although it’s more proper to say they “must.” (The appointment language of Article II, Section 2 is compulsory, not optional.) Heck’s carefully worded statement keeps him out of the obstructionist camp, without offending McConnell. That’s certainly more consideration than McConnell’s contemptible actions deserve.

—Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and co-host of the show “PoliticsNOW,” airing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays on 8NewsNow. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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