Sandra Day O'Connor, the retired Supreme Court justice appointed by a Republican president, said on Wednesday that President Barack Obama should get to name the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. O'Connor, in an interview with a Fox affiliate in Phoenix, disagreed with Republican arguments that the next president, and not Obama, should get to fill the high court vacancy.
In the fight over filling the Supreme Court vacancy, Republicans clearly have the more difficult task, at least when it comes to rhetoric and public relations. The Constitution has already made clear how the process is supposed to unfold, it's now up to GOP senators to make the case that they should ignore -- indeed, they have an obligation to ignore -- the constitutional model.
Republicans can't come right out and say the truth, since "we hate the president" isn't a compelling talking point, so they tend to frame their concerns as high-minded. As Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) put it yesterday, the partisan blockade against any court nominee is intended to protect the institution from "politicization" and "denigration."
It's difficult to take such an argument seriously, and it certainly doesn't help when an actual retired Supreme Court justice seems to have no use for the right's talking points. The Huffington Post reported yesterday:
O'Connor specifically said during the interview, "I think we need somebody there to do the job now and let's get on with it." She added, in reference to President Obama, "It's an important position and one that we care about as a nation and as a people. And I wish the president well as he makes choices and goes down that line. It's hard."
That's not at all what Republicans wanted to hear.
On the contrary, O'Connor, a Reagan appointee who retired in 2006, effectively said the opposite of what GOP senators have argued since Saturday night.
Republicans have said the seat should remain vacant for 11 months; O'Connor wants the confirmation process to begin and for a new justice to take the seat "now." Republicans have argued that the president shouldn't nominate anyone; O'Connor made clear the nominating choice is up to the president.
Obviously, O'Connor is now a private citizen and her opinions are her own, but she's also a respected figure, especially on matters related to the high court. If she'd said the opposite in the interview, encouraging Obama and sitting senators to leave the seat vacant until 2017 for the good of the institution, it's a safe bet Republicans would be citing her judgment every day for the next several months.
But she didn't. O'Connor seems to have no use for the GOP arguments whatsoever.