Myths Busted

Breaking down the Republican lawmakers' arguments against confirming an Obama SCOTUS nominee.

Breaking Down The Republican Lawmakers’ Arguments Against Confirming An Obama SCOTUS Nominee

Almost immediately after news broke about the sudden passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, congressional Republicans made it clear that they would not confirm anyone President Obama picked for the open seat on the country’s top judicial bench—regardless of who President Obama nominates. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led the charge, saying the Senate would wait until the next President to confirm a person for the position. Republican lawmakers have since parroted the same talking points about why they will obstruct a Supreme Court nominee, but most of them aren’t based in reality. Here are some of the talking points Republicans have been pushing:

1) “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been using this spin to garner support for his decision to block the nomination. However, McConnell and other Republican lawmakers using this talking point forget that voters elected President Obama to use the powers guaranteed by the Constitution—including the power to nominate Supreme Court justices—for a full 8 years. And voters, especially in 2012, cared about the future of the Supreme Court, with a majority of voters choosing Obama.

2) It is “standard practice” to obstruct SCOTUS nominations during a presidential election year. Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has been touting this claim ever since Scalia’s death was confirmed. However, this claim in not true. Since 1900, six Supreme Court justices have been confirmed during a presidential election year. President Reagan urged Congress to confirm Anthony Kennedy, his appointee, during the last year of his presidency, asking them to “join together in a bipartisan effort to fulfill our constitutional obligation of restoring the United States Supreme Court to full strength.” Justice Kennedy was later confirmed by a 97-0 vote. For more proof, check out the history of presidential year Supreme Court nominations in this chart by David Mendoza.

3) President Obama should not be allowed to replace a conservative justice like Scalia with a more liberal one. Senator Ted Cruz has been a staunch opponent of confirming President Obama’s eventual Supreme Court nominee, declaring, “We’re not going to give up the U.S. Supreme Court for a generation by allowing Barack Obama to make one more liberal appointee.” Unfortunately for Ted Cruz, the confirmation of presidential appointees to the Supreme Court is what causes the Court’s ideological leanings to change over time. Justice Scalia’s own confirmation made the Court more conservative, since Scalia replaced Chief Justice Warren Burger. Burger was a key vote on several “liberal decisions.”

4) Democrat lawmakers would not support a nominee from a Republican president in an election year. Though it is true that Democrat lawmakers opposed the nomination of Judge Robert Bork, they did so because Bork was viewed as an extreme judge with controversial pro-life positions. After Bork failed to get confirmed, Democrat lawmakers voted to confirm Reagan’s other nominee, Justice Anthony Kennedy. Right after Reagan asked for a bipartisan effort to confirm Kennedy, then-Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Joe Biden (D-DE) said “we will get the process under way and move as rapidly as is prudent,” while today’s chairman, Sen. Grassley, indicates he will obstruct the process for President Obama’s nominee.

BOTTOM LINE: Congressional Republicans blocking President Obama’s nominee is unprecedented, plain and simple. The reasons behind their blatant refusal to even vote on a nominee are unfounded, showing that this obstructionism is purely political.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.