Over the past couple of decades, every new appointment to the US Supreme Court has been more contentious and politically motivated than the last. Since the first appointment to the Supreme Court, 68 justices were approved on voice votes, Abe Fortas being the most recent in 1965 during the term of President Lyndon Johnson. It was three years after Fortas was appointed to the Supreme Court that Chief Justice Earl Warren attempted to work out a back room deal with Johnson to appoint Fortas as his successor prior to the 1968 Presidential election. The plan ultimately failed, and Warren officially retired on June 23, 1969. Prior to that attempt, the last Presidential election year vacancy to be filled was in 1940 when the Senate approved Frank Murphy on a voice vote.
Fast forward to the present. There is now a Supreme Court vacancy caused by the death of Antonin Scalia, who was confirmed by a vote of 98-0 in 1986. UPI reports, “Scalia’s death leaves a vacancy on the 9-person Supreme Court and within hours of his death, battle lines had already been drawn on Capitol Hill over who would name his replacement.”
A pair of Senators who are also Presidential candidates led the charge on social media. Ted Cruz posted on Twitter, “Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, [and] the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.”
Marco Rubio followed suit by saying, “The next president must nominate a justice who [will] continue Justice Scalia’s unwavering belief in the founding principals that we hold dear.”
Both men seemed to be following the lead of Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, who, according to Politico, issued a statement about an hour after Scalia’s death in Texas had been confirmed stating, “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
Politico adds, “there is no precedent for a sitting president to hand over his power of high-court appointment at the request of any member of the legislative branch.”
President Obama, on the other hand, reportedly said, “I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time.” Adding that he would call “upon the Senate to likewise fulfill its responsibilities and give the chosen nominee a ‘fair hearing.’”
Whether or not the US Senate votes to ultimately confirm Obama’s yet-to-be-named replacement for Justice Scalia, one thing is certain: the US Supreme Court will continue to be divided along ideological lines, and the majority of justices will have already decided which way they will vote before oral arguments are ever heard. The next Supreme Court Justice should be neither liberal nor conservative, and should hold individual liberty as paramount in all cases.