Scalia's empty chair and the Senate's path forward
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The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia established himself and will long be remembered as a towering hero of the conservative movement. The coming months will likely bring more political wrangling and high-minded rhetoric over the nomination of his successor.

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Two key questions stand out. First, can the nomination and confirmation occur before the November presidential and congressional elections? Second, what type of nominee would clear the constitutional hurdle of Senate confirmation?

Scalia leaves an impressive legacy as a tireless and unceasing champion of democracy and the constitutional text. On a personal level, of course, he also leaves an impressive family legacy: his wife Maureen and their nine children and over 30 grandchildren.

To be sure, his relentlessly logical approach and doctrinal consistency dramatically influenced the court, even his liberal colleagues, to look to the text and the plain meaning of provisions under review. His textualist approach steered the court away from judicially crafted multi-part tests that seemed more like statutes than judicial decisions. He imposed more analytical rigor in his approach to legal precedents and outcomes. He all but ended the judicial game of justifying outcomes by sleuthing for obscure snippets of language buried somewhere in the many hundreds of pages of "legislative history." Congress, he said, "does not alter the fundamental details of a regulatory scheme in vague terms or ancillary provisions — it does not, one might say, hide elephants in mouseholes."

As court watchers have recognized, Scalia was also one of the best writers in the history of the Supreme Court.

On the issue of his successor, history may prove instructive. The most recent occasions when a president nominated and the Senate confirmed a Supreme Court selection in a presidential election year were 1956, 1940 and 1932. In two of these cases, a Republican president named Democrats to the high court: President Eisenhower selected William Brennan and President Hoover selected Benjamin Cardozo.

President Obama could follow this precedent and name a Republican to fill Scalia's seat. Rumor had it that Obama was considering Brian Sandoval, the Republican governor of Nevada. That type of nominee would put the pressure back on Senate Republicans to explain to American voters in their home states why a Republican nominee would be unacceptable. But wary conservatives have been burned too many times by the likes of Justices David Souter and Anthony Kennedy, or even Chief Justice John Roberts.

A Republican nominee would present a special challenge for those Republican senators up for reelection in moderate states, such as Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonTrump, GOP shift focus from alleged surveillance abuse to Durham Russia probe Here are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties MORE (R-Wis.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Lawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities Senators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing MORE (Ohio), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Bottom Line MORE (Ill.), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (N.H.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

The confirmation process changed dramatically over the last few decades, as critics of the Warren Court focused attention on the Supreme Court's failure to act as an umpire calling balls and strikes as it became a super-legislature of unaccountable life-tenured judges who substitute their own policy preferences for duly enacted laws — in the words of the late Professor Herbert Wechsler, a "naked power organ."

Ultimately, we see this frustration on both sides of the political aisle in the presidential nomination contest. We see a great divide between voters' wishes and Washington's failure to deliver the relief they seek. That divide is one reason for the rise of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE (R) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHow can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? Biden rallies with John Kerry in early primary states Buttigieg campaign says 2000 people attended Iowa rally MORE (Vt.).

This presents Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey House and Senate health leaders reach deal to stop surprise medical bills Biden: 'No party should have too much power' Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties Congressional leaders unite to fight for better future for America's children and families MORE (R-Iowa) the perfect opportunity to redeem Washington Republicans with frustrated voters of all persuasions.

The people gave Republicans a majority in the House of Representatives in 2010. They voted House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorMeet Trump's most trusted pollsters Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington GOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' MORE (R-Va.) out of office in a Republican primary. They gave Republicans a Senate majority in 2014. They essentially forced Speaker House John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE (R-Ohio) to resign last fall.

Voters sent Republicans to Washington to use their rare and historic control of both Houses of Congress to stop President Obama. It is high time now, in the fourth quarter of Obama's presidency, to use this empowerment on the most important issue of our time. McConnell and Grassley deserve credit for recognizing the importance of this moment and the charge they have from voters.

President Obama could choose to follow the examples of Presidents Eisenhower and Hoover by crossing party lines. He could nominate a solid defender of the rule of law and the Constitution, such as Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Pelosi works to remove legal protections for tech companies from USMCA | Treasury sanctions Russian group over 0 million hack | Facebook sues Chinese individuals for ad fraud | Huawei takes legal action against FCC Senators defend bipartisan bill on facial recognition as cities crack down Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans MORE (R-Utah). If so, the Senate would have an easy time confirming Obama's selection. If not, the country will be better off leaving Justice Scalia's chair empty until a worthy successor can be found.

Trotter is a political analyst and attorney. Her views are her own.