Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee

Another Lesser-of-Evils Myth Dies

Since their arrival on the American political scene in the eighties and nineties, Green activists and voters have been tagged by Democrats as spoilers and reckless idealists. In each and every election in which a Green has run, Democrats warned that the interloper would throw the election to the Republican candidate. The barrage was heaviest in 2000 when Democrats falsely claimed Ralph Nader caused Al Gore to lose to George W. Bush.

When all else fails to convince a Green to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, Democrats deploy their nuclear option: the composition of the Supreme Court hangs in the balance. “You wouldn’t want fill-in-the-blank to make an appointment, would you?” No, of course not, replies the hapless Green. This is a crafty argument that pushed no small number of fence sitters over to the donkey side (not including yours truly).

Barack Obama now appears poised to destroy the argument once and for all. Joe Biden floated the first trial balloon last week in a Minnesota Public Radio interview:

In order to get this done, the president is not going to be able to go out — nor would it be his instinct, anyway — to pick the most liberal jurist in the nation and put them on the court. There are plenty of judges (who) are on high courts already who have had unanimous support of the Republicans.

The second balloon lifted off the ground this week. The Washington Post reported that Brian Sandoval, Republican Governor of Nevada, is among Obama’s possible nominees. The Post describes Sandoval as “a centrist former judge.” After US Senate confirmation in an 89-0 vote, Sandoval spent a few years as a Federal District Court judge before winning the governorship in 2011.

Sandoval initially opposed Obamacare, joining a failed challenge to the constitutionality of the individual mandate. He later accepted expanded Medicare funding from Washington—a rare move for Republican governors. He’s less environmentally rapacious than his brethren, raised taxes to support public schools, does not rail against Roe v. Wade nor fight marriage equality—smart positions for a statewide candidate in Nevada.

The President believes if he picks a Republican, he’ll put the Senate Republican majority in a tough bind. He’s already alarmed the Democratic base. Democracy for America’s Charles Chamberlain said it was

Absurd that President Obama would risk his legacy by appointing another anti-labor Republican like Brian Sandoval to an already overwhelmingly pro-big-business Supreme Court. Nominating someone like Sandoval would not only prevent grass-roots organizations like DFA from supporting the president in this nomination fight, it could lead us to actively encouraging Senate Democrats to oppose his appointment.

The whiff of Sandoval’s name did not lure many Republicans either. Utah’s Mike Lee said “The short answer is no, it doesn’t change anything.” Republican Whip Cornyn of Texas claimed that “this isn’t about the personality”—which, of course, it isn’t. It’s about once again humiliating the first Black president.

Obama was his annoyingly reasonable self in response to continued Republican stonewalling:

I recognize the politics are hard for them, because the easier thing to o is to give in to the most extreme voices within their party and stand pat and do nothing. [The Republican position] may evolve [if the public believes the nominee is] very well qualified. I don’t expect Mitch McConnell to say that is the case today. I don’t expect any member of the Republican caucus to stick their head out at the moment and say that. But let’s see how the public responds to the nominee that we put forward.

Rather than simply demanding that Senators do their jobs, the president prefers the appearance of sympathizing with people who would put his head on a pike. He pretends that Republican Senators are not themselves among the most extreme voices in their party. Obama ought to have learned his lesson by now. Instead, he commits the same old corporate Democrat political mistake: tack right then face obstruction anyway. Given the record of the past eight years, his is a politics not of compromise but of accommodation unto defeat.

Should Obama nominate a “moderate,” Republicans win either way. Democratic activists are further demoralized, and the Senate majority fails to act on his or her nomination. Or, Republicans wink, nod, and we end up with another functional Republican on the Supreme Court, while Antonin Scalia chortles in hell. Remember the idiocy of keeping Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense.

Obama’s too clever by half maneuvering let Mitch McConnell outfox him yet again. After speaking with the Majority Leader—you can imagine the awkwardness of that conversation—Sandoval withdrew his name from consideration Thursday evening.

A third balloon is on its way. Get out your rifle.

Steve Breyman works with 100%RenewableNowNYS. Reach him at: breyms@rpi.edu. Read other articles by Steve.