Leading From Behind: Obama Flinches on Supreme Court Pick

Instead of turning a crisis into opportunity, President Barack Obama is going from crisis to crisis.

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Barack Obama has been lying to us.

Not about whether he’s a liberal or a conservative, or something trivial like his golf handicap. Obama has been lying to America about what kind of president he is.

After the 2014 midterms, Obama finally acknowledged that the Republicans would rather see the entire country go to hell in a handbasket than let him accomplish anything. So in his 2015 State of the Union, he said there was a new sheriff in town.

Gone was the incrementalist, pragmatic politician who regularly got left naked at the poker table when dealing with the GOP. This would be a new Obama, willing to do what it took to run the country, rules be damned. This was the Obama who trash-talked Kobe Bryant on the basketball court; the Barack Obama who, as a state senator, was willing to throw over an insult. The Obama who in 2010 walked into the lion’s den of the Republican retreat and came out looking like King Jaffe Joffer

Unfortunately, that appears to have been a fraud.

Obama’s refusal to take advantage of Congress being at recess by appointing someone to the Supreme Court to replace Antonin Scalia without its approval is one of the most cowardly, embarrassing and shameful abdications of power of any president in American history. And, without a doubt, history and Americans should judge him harshly for it.

The facts of the current Supreme Court crisis are not in dispute. After almost 30 years on the bench, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly Saturday at the age of 79. Scalia was the leader of the hard-right conservatives on the bench, the Calvin Candie to Clarence Thomas’ Stephen. Moreover, when Scalia found himself in dissent, he prided himself on railing against not just the decisions but the very character of the judges who disagreed with him.

He was the mortal enemy of women’s rights, minority rights, labor rights and just about anything else for which liberals, or even a centrist like President Obama, ever stood. His death leaves the court at a 4-4 split between conservatives and liberals, and the replacement of Scalia could tip the scales of the nation’s highest court for a generation.

Scalia hadn’t even been driven to the morgue before Republicans in the Senate pledged that not only would they refuse to confirm anyone Obama nominated to replace Scalia, but they wouldn’t even schedule a confirmation, starting the #NoHearingsNoVote hashtag to rally the troops. The Republicans’ explanations are a grab bag of excuses they’ve used throughout this presidency (Obama’s a Democrat. It’s an election year. He’s black.), but their position is constitutionally sound even if it’s weaselly, irresponsible and petty like Tom.

However, once Senate Republicans made their position clear, President Obama had two options: Be the president he’s always been and nominate a new Supreme Court justice, or be the new tough-guy president he’s claimed to be for the last 18 months and appoint a justice. On Tuesday, at a press conference in California, he completely ruled out appointing a Supreme Court replacement, stating, “I expect them to hold hearings. I expect there to be a vote. Full stop,” and adding that ultimately, he hoped Republicans in the Senate would “rise above” petty politics to confirm a new justice.