After Justice Antonin Scalia passed away unexpectedly on February 13, the American Left became giddy at the prospect of having an opportunity to see a measure of sanity restored to the Supreme Court — they were making the rather naive assumption that President Obama actually will have a chance to appoint a replacement.
Many of us feel that if you don’t have anything good to say about the recently departed, you probably shouldn’t say anything at all. And while one well might have nothing but contempt for the man’s actions on the bench, he surely must have had endearing qualities as a human being; indeed, colleague Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is about as far removed from him ideologically as humanly possible, was effusive in her praise, and declared that she and the deceased were “best buddies”. And hey, the guy even loved opera, so how bad could he be?
That said, it’s very difficult to remain silent, however, when you see some of the rampant nonsense that has followed his demise. The late judge’s fans went overboard in their accolades, lauding him as a legal superhero. Perhaps the most commonly reiterated motif was that he was a champion of the Constitution. Well, one certainly should hope so, given his job description. But in truth, his championing of the Constitution wasn’t exactly consistent.
When it suited his ideological purposes, he was quite willing to use the Constitution as wrapping paper for gifts to his cohorts. He was instrumental, for instance, in rewriting the Second Amendment to the specifications of the gun lobby. Coincidentally, he belonged to an arcane “hunting society” whose motto translated into English means, I kid you not, “honoring God by honoring his creatures”. Let’s hope we’re not among the creatures they choose to honor.
Lest we forget, he was also a key player in Bush vs. Gore, which twisted the Constitution into a Moebius strip in order to hand the presidency to a man with whom some of the justices had ideological and personal ties. Coincidentally, Scalia was appointed by Ronald Reagan while Bush’s father was vice president, and his son worked for Theodore Olson, lead counsel for Bush in his suit.
A few years ago, he was questioned about whether he had any remorse about the ruling, and he remained defiantly unapologetic, even inserting the baldfaced lie that the margin was 7-2 rather than 5-4, and that it “wasn’t even close”. For good measure he even displayed his much-praised sophistication and elegance by adding the tags “get over it” and “so there”.
Unfortunately, the excessive praise heaped upon Justice Scalia isn’t the only way in which right-wing fanatics have played loose with the facts in the aftermath of his death. They have used the event, as they use virtually any other event, as an occasion to fire a few broadsides against President Obama. In so doing, they have provided even more illustrations of what we could call The Obama Exception: i.e., the unswerving, obsessive conviction that the current president should be judged by a radically different set of criteria than any other mortal — that anything involving him, however obliquely, must necessarily be a thousand times worse than it would be if it involved anyone else.
Many wingers, for instance, are still doing their damnedest to make a “scandal” of the fact that terrorists killed four people in Benghazi three years ago. Yet many of them are among the people who hailed George W. Bush as a hero after terrorists killed 3000 civilians on American soil. There are quite a few of them whom you’d never convince, no matter how much documentation you provide, that the president is an American citizen; they just know he can’t possibly be, since his father was from Kenya. Yet many of them would have no problem with throwing their support behind red-blooded American Ted Cruz, who was actually born in Canada. They built a three-ring media circus around Obama’s “latte salute” without even mentioning George W.’s canine salute.
And so we have several popular narratives built upon the death of Antonin Scalia that illustrate Obama Derangement Syndrome at its looniest and nastiest. To wit:
1. President Obama’s decision not to attend the funeral was unprecedented
There is no established protocol for whether a sitting president should attend the funeral of a Supreme Court justice. But it’s an outright lie that (as many right-wingers proclaim) this has never happened before. Only one sitting justice has died in the past 60 years; but of the past 10 current or former justices who have died, the sitting president attended the funeral in only 4 cases.
2. President Obama’s decision not to attend the funeral was disrespectful
The president paid his respects by sending Vice President Biden to the funeral, and by himself attending the wake and a memorial service at the Supreme Court. Considering what a high-profile distraction his presence would have been at the funeral, the president’s decision not to attend was perhaps the most respectful thing he could have done. In any case, it is quite clear that he is as usual the target, rather than the perpetrator of disrespect — particularly since the right-wing rumor mill insisted that he didn’t go to the funeral because he was busy golfing.
3. There’s nothing unusual about blocking the appointment of a successor
Those poor “conservatives” just can’t seem to keep it straight about what is and what is not unprecedented. Previously, the longest time the ninth seat on the high court has gone unfilled after a death has been 174 days (the longest is 391 days for all vacancies). At Scalia’s death, Obama had some 340 days left in his term; and the GOP has hinted it is willing to extend the record at least an additional 730 days if another Democrat is elected in November. Additionally, it’s important to note that during those previous vacancies, the process of nominating and deliberating on justices proceeded. Congressional Republicans now have declared that they will not even consider a presidential appointment until one of their guys is in the White House. And this is something that truly is unprecedented.
4. Blocking the appointment of a successor would give the voters more of a voice
For this one we can thank Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who offered this side-splitting excuse for the obstructionism:
The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.
But which Mitch is which? Presumably, it was the evil twin of this Mitch McConnell who voted (along with all of his fellow Republicans) to confirm a nominee in the final year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and, only a few short years ago during the reign of George W. pontificated that
Any President’s judicial nominees should receive careful consideration. But after that debate, they deserve a simple up-or-down vote. . . . It’s time to move away from advise and obstruct and get back to advise and consent. The stakes are high . . . . The Constitution of the United States is at stake. Article II, Section 2 clearly provides that the President, and the President alone, nominates judges.
Yet now, thanks to the all-powerful Obama Exception, the voters deserve their voices to be heard. Mitch, Mitch. Barack Obama won two elections by very convincing margins. He is the first president since Eisenhower to win twice with a majority of the popular vote. How much louder do those voices need to be before you can hear them too? Do you really believe that President Hillary or President Bernie will appoint someone more to your liking? Or do you believe that President Donald will appoint someone who speaks with the voice of the American people?
5. Democrats who object to the stonewalling are being hypocritical
Over at the ever-entertaining National Review, Jonah Goldberg has been doing what he does best: making an utter ass of himself. This includes some rather asinine “thoughts” on Scalia and how the GOP must “stand firm” on having him replaced any time soon. He has also stated that:
Democrats have been blowing up the appointment process piecemeal since they turned Judge Robert Bork’s last name into a verb back in 1987.
He’s in good, or at least plentiful company here, as other wingnut ideologues have also suggested that it’s hypocritical for Democrats to complain about infantile Republican behavior today, when Democrats torpedoed the Bork nomination 3 decades ago. Media Matters pegs this as a specimen of apples and oranges, though it’s really more like apples and iguanas. As noted above, there is a vast difference between rejecting a nominee and refusing to even deliberate on a nominee, any nominee, put forth by a particular president. As for Robert Bork, he was an exceptionally godawful candidate even by Reaganesque standards (thus Goldberg’s starry-eyed praise for him). Even so, it took the Democratic-controlled Senate 109 days to reject him. (The seat was ultimately filled by Justice Kennedy, who was confirmed in 65 days.)
6. The nomination “controversy”
Why exactly should it be considered controversial? The president nominates, and the Senate votes on the nomination. Period. So there. Get over it. Even Mitch McConnell’s good twin acknowledged as much, once upon a time.
Ah, but there’s always the Obama Exception, isn’t there? It provides all the justification they need to indulge in frothy-mouthed, faux patriotic eliminationism at the expense of the American public. It’s not exactly a controversy. But it is an outrage and a national disgrace.