As the nation paid tribute to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, liberals appear to be licking their chops for a fight with Republicans over whether President Obama should be allowed to flip the Supreme Court from a conservative majority to one dominated by liberals. Part of that is being displayed in an ugly stream of social media abuse directed at Scalia’s memory from left-wingers who lack a sense of grace or discretion. Not even the tributes from his liberal colleagues and friends such as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have been able to still that seething anger at the conservative hero. But there’s more to the left’s eagerness to fight than just the nastiness we’ve been seeing on Facebook and Twitter. Liberal analysts are keenly aware of the stakes involved in the upcoming struggle and are doing all they can to stack the deck in the court of public opinion.
The most widely quoted example of this trend was a New York Times feature published earlier in the week in which reporters sought out African-Americans to validate a familiar liberal talking point: all opposition to President Obama is rooted in racism. We needn’t waste much time dissecting the piece other than to note that its circular logic doesn’t stand even the most casual scrutiny. The issues involved in the court battle relate to the future of American law and have nothing to do with the president’s race or that of some of his conservative opponents. The GOP Senate wouldn’t mind another Clarence Thomas but left-wingers view the race of conservatives as irrelevant. It should also be noted that the fact that Republicans have rolled out the most diverse field of presidential candidates in our history has made no impression on either the Times or liberal black supporters of the president.
Like both of his most recent predecessors, Obama has inspired a derangement syndrome among his opponents. But the polarization of American politics revolves around ideology; not skin color or ethnicity. The left has a short memory when it comes to the demonization of George W. Bush or even that of Bill Clinton.
Far more honest was another Times article, this one by their longtime Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse, who now writes diatribes about law for the paper’s opinion section. Greenhouse honored Scalia’s memory with a scathing denunciation of his judicial legacy that she said mandated a “reset.” She acknowledged that if this was “an uncharitable, even tasteless observation, so be it.” She blamed Scalia for making the court “an agent of partisan warfare” that threatened, “to do real damage to the institution.” This evaluation turned the truth upside down but it also explains why this fight is so important.
What Scalia did in his 29 years on the court was to lead the charge for the causes of “originalism” and “textualism.” That means the Constitution means what our Founders meant it to mean and that the laws government must enforce mean what they say, not what each new generation of liberal judges say it must mean in order to justify whatever revolutions in law the left requires at any given moment. As such, Scalia sought to take out of the political morass into which previous liberal majorities had landed it. As such, he was and still remains public enemy number one for liberal ideologues who have lamented decisions of the court that bolstered the First Amendment (Citizens United) or made sure the Second wasn’t abrogated (Heller) to take two of the most prominent examples.
In Greenhouse’s biased view, the man even his liberal opponents understood to be the most vibrant legal mind in the country was merely someone who spouted “right wing talking points.” This is nonsense, but it is also what psychologists like to call projection. For generations, liberals have taken it as a matter of faith that their partisan interests of the moment took precedence over the Constitution or the meaning of laws. They thought that entitled them to twist the meaning of the Constitution to justify anything they wanted. Justice Scalia sought to put a halt to that. Rather than making the court more partisan, his life’s work was an attempt to rescue the judicial system from what liberals had done by ignoring original intent or the texts of laws.
Replacing Scalia with a left-wing judge that would meet with Greenhouse’s approbation — as President Obama’s other nominees have done — would mean that the law would once again become the plaything of the left with dire consequences for freedom of speech, freedom or religion and a host of other concepts that create obstacles for the liberal project. As this Times graphic illustrates, the president has the opportunity to make this the most liberal court in decades.
While there is a good argument for following the form of the nomination process and giving any presidential nominee the courtesy of meetings and hearings, those who don’t wish Scalia’s work undone have no choice but to do all in their power to prevent this from happening. Doing so is not a personal affront to the president or an example of mindless obstructionism. Nor is it an offense to the Constitution, a document that gives the Senate that right to withhold its consent to any nominee. Nor is there anything sacred about the number nine, since the Constitution actually is vague about how many members the court should have. The left’s hypocrisy about the possibility of filibustering an Obama nominee, something the Democrats (including the president) did when he was in the Senate also ought to strengthen the resolve of the GOP.
Indeed, Greenhouse’s piece should be required reading for all members of the Republican caucus in the Senate because it outlines exactly what the president and his supporters want to do. Though I’m skeptical about predictions that this issue can flip the Senate, we don’t know what impact this will have on the 2016 elections. But whatever happens, there is more at play here than one election. By standing firm, the Senate can ensure that Scalia’s legacy isn’t trashed. That is not only a fight worth having. It is one that Republicans are obligated to take up if they have any respect for Scalia’s memory.