NYT Pities Dems: GOP Won't 'Even Shake Hands' With SC Nominee 'Selected by the Duly Elected President'

The print headline in Friday’s New York Times, on the partisan tussle to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat, was sedate enough: “G.O.P. Doubts Electoral Fallout On Court Fight,” but the online headline captured the pro-Democrat, anti-GOP tone of the report from David Herszenhorn and Carl Hulse, “Supreme Court Fight Won’t Die, No Matter How Hard Republicans Try.” Another Hulse article described the Democrats' dilemma in pitiable terms: "They were absolutely astonished when Senate Republicans took the power struggle to an entirely new level by announcing that they would not even shake hands with a Supreme Court nominee selected by the duly elected president of the United States."

A Thursday editorial also accused Republicans of “losing their minds” in refusing to consider any Obama nominees to the Supreme Court. But in 1992, when a Republican president faced off against a Democratic Senate, that same editorial page argued “For the Senate, the lesson is to stop confirming the Administration's nominees....”

Herszenhorn and Hulse wrote:

Senate Republicans, facing fierce criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill, insisted Thursday that they would face no political retribution from their decision to shun any Supreme Court nomination made by President Obama, expressing confidence that they would not be hurt at the polls in November.

....

But Democrats said the issue would be valuable in motivating turnout and helping them close the gap with conservative Republican voters energized by Donald J. Trump. They said they were excited about polls showing independent voters siding with Democrats because independents could be in a position to decide not only the presidential election, but also Senate elections in swing states.

....

Democrats insisted they could use the court fight to spur voters on the individual priorities that resonate with them, citing the stakes for climate change, campaign finance changes, abortion rights, immigration -- mobilizing them on a topic that goes beyond the court but is tied to who chooses the new justice.

A Thursday column by Hulse, “Hardball Politics’ Enters a New Era,” was more forthright in its defensiveness in favor of Democrats.

Senate Democrats were slightly surprised when Republicans told the White House budget director this month not to bother making the ritual presentation of a spending plan. They were absolutely astonished when Senate Republicans took the power struggle to an entirely new level by announcing that they would not even shake hands with a Supreme Court nominee selected by the duly elected president of the United States.

“This is so far outside of the usual conduct,” Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, said on Wednesday. “This is hardball politics over the Supreme Court, unfortunately.”

Poor Obama:

The conflict between Republicans and President Obama has entered a new phase after another year of confrontation. Republicans circumvented the White House to invite the prime minister of Israel to address Congress. They wrote a letter warning the leaders of Iran that a nuclear deal could be unraveled. They snubbed the budget chief. Now they have no interest in meeting a court nominee.

Hulse lamely dismissed damning comments by then Sen. Joe Biden from 1992 calling for Democrats to block Republican picks.

To bolster their case, Republicans have been enthusiastically reminding Democrats of past statements by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. But their suggestions, made years ago, that they might be inclined to block a White House pick in a presidential election year were hypothetical. The current case is for real, and the consequences could be significant.

....

[Sen. Charles] Grassley has seemed uneasy with the situation both in Iowa and in Washington. As photographers stalked him on Tuesday outside the Senate chamber, he raised a binder to cover his face before hurriedly retreating.

Democrats used a series of events on Wednesday to keep the pressure by demonstrating how unusual this situation is. They intend to do so regularly as they await Mr. Obama’s nomination.

Hulse all but egged the Democrats on.

Democrats are looking forward to when the nominee will make the rounds of the Capitol for the traditional photo ops. They do not think the Republicans’ refusal to meet with the nominee will be a good political picture for them.

While they might not be able to force Republicans to relent, Democrats believe they have the political high ground and will ultimately prevail, either with a confirmation hearing and a vote on a nominee, or a November election victory that gives them the Senate and the White House. Right now, they say that their mission, besides pressuring Republicans, is to avoid a mistake that erases their advantage.

A Thursday editorial was headlined online “Senate Republicans Lose Their Minds on a Supreme Court Seat,” arguing that the U.S. Senate should follow the president’s lead in confirming Supreme Court nominees.

...no matter how often Republicans repeat the phrase “let the people decide,” that’s not how the system works. The Constitution vests the power to make nominations to the court in the president, not “the people.” In any case, the people have already decided who should make this appointment: They elected Mr. Obama twice, by large margins.

The Times’ editorial thinking certainly has evolved. Back in 1992, when it was a Republican president facing a Democratic-controlled Senate, the Times urged the Senate “to stop confirming the Administration's nominees...”

Clarence Thomas and David Souter, the two Supreme Court Justices appointed by President Bush, have just made moderates of Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, two Reagan appointees. The newest Justices tipped the balance in a 5-to-4 decision stripping another right of access to the Federal courts for prisoners who believe their rights have been denied....For the Senate, the lesson is to stop confirming the Administration's nominees on the assumption that the White House will eventually get its way; and to press hard for justices with proven respect for judging, for Congress and for the legislative process.

An editorial from 1990, when the Democrats also controlled the Senate, made a similar point:

“...the Supreme Court is a separate branch of government and the Senate has a special duty to scrutinize nominees. As President Reagan learned when the Senate rejected Robert Bork's nomination, the President proposes but the Senate disposes....Whatever limits on questioning the Senate observes, it may nevertheless do its own research and reach its own judgments. Inevitably, there will be single-issue politics ahead, and partisanship. But when it comes to Supreme Court appointments, there is nothing partisan about the proposition that the Senate disposes.”

There is something extremely partisan about New York Times’ editorial flip-flops.

Clay Waters
Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center.