There was a morning during a meeting of President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet when a senior White House assistant for political affairs asked to be recognized. When his turn came to speak about the policy question before the President, the aide began to explain the political consequences of making a decision on the subject. President Reagan let him speak his mind and then politely thanked him before saying, “Well, I think we’ll just figure out what the right thing to do is and let the politics take care of itself.”
When it comes to the awesome responsibility of nominating and confirming the next United States Supreme Court Justice, that notion speaks volumes.
My view, politically correct or otherwise, is that we elect a President for a four-year term. We don’t suggest to that individual that we really only want them to make important decisions for 3 ½ years of the term. Thus, the President has an obligation to consider candidates and to nominate a qualified individual for the Supreme Court when there is a vacancy. Politics, elections, pandemics really should not deter a President in doing what is right.
Then, members of the United States Senate should do, however they may individually determine it, what’s right. Each Senator has the right to judge if the qualifications of the nominee are sufficient to confirm the nominee. Their ultimate vote in favor or in opposition of a nominee should be based on qualifications. Of course, the reason behind a vote is up to the individual Senator.
The right thing to do is to allow the process to go forward.
But, the politics are, in my view, not what many may believe.
Should President Trump nominate an individual and see that person confirmed by the Senate before the election, he may actually cause himself and Senate Republicans in close races political harm.
The process of nominating and confirming a new justice to the Supreme Court is not likely to change the views of voters already firmly decided for whom they will vote.
However, there are among Republican voters a number who hesitate about reelecting Donald Trump, yet they fear a shift in the balance of the Supreme Court during a Biden administration. Providing Trump with one final appointment to the Supreme Court would reduce the anxiety among these voters should they determine to crossover and vote for a change in the White House.
Conversely, should the President and the Senate place one more conservative justice on the Supreme Court, Democratic voters, not already firmly committed, would certainly be more likely to engage in the election process to vote for a President who would select justices more in line with their thinking in the future.
And, there is one additional reason for a moderate voter to favor at least a nomination. While it is possible a Trump victory would cause him to pull back a nomination to the Supreme Court who is not yet confirmed, it is unlikely. And, a Trump nomination coming after the election where no constraint of an election is a factor would not likely yield the same type of nominee.
I think President Obama was right to place an individual before the Senate as a nominee to the Supreme Court nine months before an election. I believe the same is true for President Trump even this close to the election. What the 100 members of the United States Senate decide to do and when they decide to do it is anyone’s guess.
In all of this there is one very important reminder, elections matter. In fact, three of the central actors in the drama that will play out in the weeks ahead are up for reelection: President Trump; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; and, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham. Let’s hope they figure out what is the right thing to do and then they can let the politics take care of itself.
One more thing…VOTE! It is the single best way to express yourself on this and so many other issues.
Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore.
Editor’s note: Listen to this topic discussed by Al From and Craig Fuller during From & Fuller on Thursday in the Spy