What I am about to say won’t make Democrats happy, may irritate independents, and even annoy a few Republicans. But as a matter of practical politics there is no good reason for the Senate to approve anyone Barack Obama nominates for the Supreme Court.
Before you start egging my house and insulting my mother, let me admit a few things. First, in a cosmic, Constitutional, playing-by-the-rules sense – there are plenty of reasons this Republican-dominated chamber should give a prompt and fair hearing to the president's pick. After all, he is just doing his job. Second, with so much critical work in the Court's lap one can argue no chair should be empty long. And third, there really is no legal, formal, official precedent to disregard “lame duck” nominations.
But there are political realities. If Republicans agree to consider a candidate from this president, at best they might get a moderate - trust me, he's not going to choose a conservative. And if they approve that nominee, they would give the Dems another "win" in the headlines. Considering that every GOP candidate is running against the Obama record that would be like conceding an extra point in the Super Bowl.
But what if the Democrats win the White House again and the new president nominates a sharply liberal person? If the GOP holds onto the Senate, the party could block nominee after nominee until the administration is forced to compromise. And if the GOP wins the White House, they’ll have a new conservative justice picked, approved, and robed before the Obamas can fly back to Chicago.
If you think public opinion will force the GOP to bend, the polls show a pretty even split on this matter and remember much of the outrage over the potential blockade of the president's choice is among people who are not going to vote Republican anyway. And if the GOP gives in, it will face fury from its own followers.
And do you think a Democratic-controlled Senate would let a Republican president with eleven months left push a conservative justice? In this poisonously partisan environment, the Democratic base would howl. And yes, I know all about Reagan’s nomination of Anthony Kennedy – but that nomination came 14 months ahead of Reagan leaving, and in a hugely different time.
I’m not judging whether such a move by the GOP is right or wrong; I’m just saying they have the power to making a sitting president from the opposing party look powerless on this issue – and I’m betting they will.