Bad politics can spread like a virus, threatening the legitimacy of even as great a democracy as the United States of America.
In so many words, that was President Barack Obama’s message Thursday during a visit to Chicago to discuss his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Obama, in a talk with students at the University of Chicago Law School, framed the refusal of the Republican-controlled Senate to even grant Garland a hearing as a dangerous step toward eroding the public’s confidence in our nation’s entire system of governance. The Senate’s refusal to act is less about “one vacant seat” on the Supreme Court, he said, than about “how we operate as a democracy.”
Sadly, Senate Republicans seem to be perfectly willing to let the erosion go on. Most of them again this week — Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois being one of the rare exceptions — have refused to even chat up the nominee in their Capitol Hill offices. They are worried more about not offending their most rigid right-wing supporters than about doing their constitutional duty.
With every new day this goes on, the Orwellian double-talk and intellectual dishonesty grow more offensive.
In times past, as Obama said, presidents nominated candidates to the Supreme Court and Congress considered those nominees in short order, usually wrapping up the process in about three months. The Senate confirmed President George W. Bush’s nomination of conservative Justice Sam Alito, for example, in 82 days.
But the confirmation process has become more politicized at every level of the federal judiciary. Blatant litmus tests — where does the candidate stand on, say, gay rights or abortion — have gummed up the works to the point where dozens of court seats go unfilled.
And now a candidate as over-qualified as Garland can’t even get a hearing.
If this goes on, the lofty role of our nation’s highest court, to stand above the political fray and seek ultimate justice, will be done in by raw partisan majority rule. “The courts,” Obama rightly warned, “will be just an extension of our legislatures.”
Do your job, senators, so that the Supreme Court can do its job.
Follow the Editorial Board on Twitter: @csteditorials