At any moment, President Barack Obama could name his pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month.
Reports from the White House say the president has narrowed his list of potential nominees as the vetting process enters a final phase – even as Senate Republicans insist they will not consider any jurist Obama chooses.
For weeks, rumors have swirled over who is and isn’t on the president’s list of candidates. When asked, Obama has offered few clues as to who he intends to pick.
“I want somebody who is an outstanding jurist, who has impeccable legal credentials, who by historical standards would not even be questioned as qualified for the court,” he said last week.
From left, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., criticize Republican leadership at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 24, 2016
Senate Democrats are eager to end the suspense.
“As far as timing, we would like someone as soon as possible, but the vetting process has to be thorough,” said Senator Chuck Schumer.
Republicans want the president to forgo a nomination entirely.
“We know what kind of judicial activist this president puts on the Supreme Court,” said the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley.
With Obama in the last year of his presidency, Republicans want his successor to fill the vacancy.
“My constituents back in Texas and, I think, people at large do not want this lame-duck president tilting the ideological balance of the Supreme Court for a generation,” said Senator John Cornyn. “We are not going to take up the nominee. We will leave that to the next president, whoever he or she may be.”
Democrats are betting that blanket, pre-emptive Republican opposition to a Supreme Court pick will soften once a nominee emerges.
“It is going to get a lot harder for our Republican colleagues to keep up this obstruction when a nominee is chosen,” Schumer said. “When we have a real flesh-and-blood nominee, and we believe that nominee will be somebody the American people will feel will be a great addition to the Supreme Court, it’s going to be a lot harder for them to say ‘no’.”
Some are warning the partisan battle will have long term consequences for America’s judiciary.
“I regret it most because of the damage it does to the Supreme Court as an institution, by dragging it down into the muck and mire of partisan politics and the gridlock that the American people despise” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal.
And one Republican predicts his party will get a nominee even less to their liking if Democrat Hillary Clinton is elected president.
“She is going to pick somebody probably more liberal than President Obama is going to send over in a few days,” said Senator Lindsey Graham.
For now, Obama is promising only one thing: there will be a nominee.
“I am confident that whoever I select, among fair-minded people, will be viewed as an eminently qualified person, and it will then be up to Senate Republicans to decide whether they want to follow the Constitution,” the president said.
An arch-conservative, Scalia’s judicial philosophy was at odds with that of Obama’s. His replacement could determine the Supreme Court’s ideological tilt for a generation.