This month, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, thus leaving a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Under the United States Constitution, the president has the responsibility to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court every time there is a vacancy on the bench. It then goes to the United States Senate to confirm the nominee before he or she can take a seat on our nation’s highest court.
The Supreme Court is a vital component of American democracy. As the highest court in the nation, it shapes the foundation of our laws and liberties by hearing cases and ruling as to legality by interpreting what the Constitution would dictate the ruling should be. Unequivocally, the shared role of the Executive (president) and Legislative (Senate) branches under the Constitution is part of our system of checks and balances that ensures this democracy. Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution, known as the Appointments Clause, makes it clear that the president must nominate, and the Senate must work to confirm- meaning they do not have to confirm the president’s choice, but if they do not, the president nominates another until candidate until one is confirmed by the Senate.
President Obama this past week, announced that he “plans to offer his nominee for the Supreme Court to the Senate, and the Senate has more than enough time to confirm that nominee.” The president understands that with only eight justices there will be a 4-4 deadlock on issues, with half the justices being “liberal” and half being “conservative.” The court’s 4-4 decisions have no value in establishing precedent on which future decisions can rely; a Supreme Court’s 4-4 ruling would leave those different rules in place in different states.
There has been a lot of talk about the fact that since this is an election year, the Republican controlled Senate will not confirm the choice of the president, who is a Democrat. In fact, the Republicans in the Senate have vowed to reject any replacement nominated by President Obama. The reason being that President Obama’s nominee will surely be liberal. That would swing any vote from 4-4 to 5-4, and thus could give liberals big victories on critical policy issues. On the docket, the Supreme Court will take up critical cases on abortion, birth control, and voting rights. Allowing the Democrats to have their choice nominee would almost guarantee the left victories on what many regard as among the most important issues in American politics today. When there are nine justices, it’s relatively simple to determine that the liberal side will have a majority on the bench.
As citizens, we must support the process of appointing a Supreme Court Justice despite our opinion on if this Justice leans to the more liberal side. If we are to undermine the Constitution and not work to uphold what our Founding Fathers intended, we in fact undermine democracy.