I’ll be the first to admit that on Saturday when I heard that Justice Scalia passed, my immediate thoughts turned to issues surrounding naming his replacement. “Is it too soon to be thinking this?” I thought, “or should I just be focusing on the legacy of a popular justice with a dry sense of humor that I really appreciate?”
I needn’t have worried. Within an hour, the 24-hour news shows had full panels chugging coffee and discussing the politics of a replacement for Justice Scalia.
Today the sun rose on the fourth day since Scalia left us, and Scalia-geddon is balls-to-the-wall and petal-to-the-metal. I have to admit, it’s fascinating. A touch unseemly–but fascinating.
Personally, I think Mitch McConnell botched it out of the gate. Announcing that he would refuse to allow the Senate to consider any replacement before Scalia’s body even left the ranch looks insensitive. It also could not have been well thought out just given the timing. One criticism some have of the elderly is that they sometimes seem to lose the governor on their mouth. McConnell’s announcement seems like a good example.
I’m no pol, but it sure seems like the smarter thing for McConnell do to would be to sympathize with Scalia’s family and praise his legacy for a few days. Then let the President make the first move on replacement and issue a measured response. McConnell didn’t have to announce that he will not allow a vote on a replacement in order to do it. He could have stalled until the election without admitting out of the gate that he is an obstructionist.
Whatever happened to subtlety in politics? In my day, when lawyers and politicians went into the 4-corners, it wasn’t preceded with a press release. Why does everything have to be played so that even complete morons in the base can understand it out of the gate? Couldn’t Rush explain the strategy to the nuts? Would Trent Lott have handled it this way?
Truth be told, this wasn’t totally unforeseeable. Before Scalia’s death, four of nine justices were at least 77 (Breyer, Scalia, Kennedy and Ginsburg). That’s longer than either of my parents and most of my grandparents, aunts and uncles lived. Only Justice Kagan is under 60. Old people die, sometimes suddenly. This was bound to happen before too much longer. Most people would have bet on Ginsburg, so that part is a surprise.
I could be convinced that there should be a mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices–but not Court of Appeals or District Court judges. But it’s not happening, so why worry about it.
So here we are in uncharted waters. The political fight of the century with the Supreme Court at the center. Oh wait, that was Bush v. Gore. But at least Bush v. Gore was over in month. This is going to last a long time. And given the age of the Court, we could be doing it again sooner than anyone thinks.