Antonin Scalia was the intellectual firepower of conservatism on the Supreme Court for thirty years, for better or worse. The phrase “evil genius” springs to mind, as his jurisprudence and perspective reflected both in equal measure; while he could be surprisingly forward thinking on issues of net neutrality and castle-doctrine privacy, something – perhaps the intense Catholic devotion, perhaps just age – prevented him seeing the individual lives behind sweeping arguments against women, against gay people, against the criminally accused (not to deny him his scathing and correct judgement in Hamdan). Ironically, his closest friend on the court was his ideological foil, Ginsburg – perhaps because game recognize game, possibly because when you’re one of nine demigods up on the Olympus of American jurisprudence, there are few others who understand what it’s like up there.
But he’s gone now, and as predicted, the GOP is closing ranks to argue that Obama should not be allowed to send a nominee to the Senate, despite years of precedent to the contrary. If it were the day after Election Day, and a new President was already elected, then absolutely, sit on things for the two months and change until the new candidate is sworn in. But we are almost a year out from Inauguration Day for the 45th President, and the idea that Obama should be obligated to shut his administration down early is beyond risible. Then again, in a word of perjury-trap impeachment and government shutdown over the debt ceiling and potential default and a President elected when another candidate had more of the popular vote, it’s pretty clear that precedent and norms mean nothing to the modern GOP. That the party of the Confederacy should argue that the first black President deserves three-fifths of a term, to quote numerous Twitter wags, is hardly suspending by this point.
Because this is a huge pivot point. If Obama gets to do his duty, any candidate who gets through will replace Anthony Kennedy as the pivot point, and for the first time since God knows when, the Court will have a majority of Democratic nominees. (Thurgood Marshall joined in 1967 and no Democrat President got a nomination again until 1993; since 1980 Republicans have named 7 members to Democrats’ 4). The stakes for this election have just skyrocketed, and that may not be to the benefit of the GOP if the Democrats can make their voters aware of the consequences.