The sudden death over the weekend of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has left a vacancy at the highest level of the judicial branch of the United States government. Under such circumstances the president nominates a successor, and the Senate exercises its constitutional role of "Advice and Consent" to confirm or reject that nominee -- presumably ("ideally" might be the more accurate word) on the basis of his or her fitness for the post.
So much for the orderly and dignified process as described in the Constitution.
The echoes of Scalia's last rites had hardly faded away before the bitterest kind of political maneuvering began. That such circling of political buzzards would now be more a surprise if it didn't happen than when it does hardly makes it less repellent.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, playing to the wing of his party that spent much of the last congressional session trying to oust him for a "real" conservative, jumped to the head of the GOP hardliner parade to declare he will block any nomination submitted by President Barack Obama.
Any nomination. Name unknown, sight unseen.
It's a stance so shamelessly obstructionist it amounts to nothing less (and certainly nothing more) than this fringe's proud public boast of collective civic irresponsibility.
Which brings us to the Democrats' left-wing fringe, said to be pushing for an uber-liberal nominee Republicans would be certain to reject -- a "statement" nomination cynically calculated to energize the party's liberal wing for the presidential election and embarrass Republicans for "playing politics" with the Supreme Court.
(Which is the more absurd and ironic part of such a strategy -- the "playing politics" part, or the idea that Capitol Hill is still capable of embarrassment?)
In any case, picking a nominee certain to be rejected would amount to the Democrats' own passive-aggressive form of political obstruction, and with the same result -- an empty seat on the Supreme Court, likely until well into the next president's first term. Given the number of 5-4 decisions in recent years, the prospect of a year of 4-4 Supreme Court deadlocks is somehow oppressively appropriate to the current political reality.
The right course should be ridiculously obvious to everybody, or at least everybody not in Washington.
There is absolutely no credible reason -- none -- why a president with almost a year left to serve should bow to nonsensical political pressure, either to forgo a nomination at all, or to pick a sacrificial nominee whose certain rejection would ostensibly provide useful propaganda for his party in November.
The president said Saturday he intends to submit a nomination to the Senate; unnamed administration officials have suggested it will be a nominee chosen for bipartisan (or nonpartisan) appeal.
If grownups on both sides of the aisle could just guide the process from here on in ...