Republicans aren't sure if they want to fill that vacant Supreme Court seat at all

The argument that's now dividing the Republicans is whether or not it's worth it to give Clinton a justice

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 28, 2016 2:29PM (EDT)

FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2016, file photo, people stand on the steps of the Supreme Court at sunset in Washington. The ideological direction of the Supreme Court is going to tip one way or the other after the election.  (AP)
FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2016, file photo, people stand on the steps of the Supreme Court at sunset in Washington. The ideological direction of the Supreme Court is going to tip one way or the other after the election. (AP)

More than 150 years after Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican President, declared that "a house divided against itself cannot stand," the party that he helped to found is hopelessly divided against itself, at least when it comes to appointing a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The issue came to a head last week when Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) informed a Philadelphia radio station that he and other Senate Republicans would block any Supreme Court nominee that a Hillary Clinton might choose.

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” McCain told 1210 WPHT radio in Philadelphia. “I promise you. This is where we need the majority and Pat Toomey is probably as articulate and effective on the floor of the Senate as anyone I have encountered.”

On Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) backed up McCain's position. "There will be plenty of time for debate on that issue; there is long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices,” he told reporters. “Just recently Justice [Stephen] Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job; that’s a debate that we are going to have.”

This view is not shared by all Senate Republicans. When asked about it by Politico on Thursday, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) replied, “You won’t be surprised, I do not agree. There’s a difference between what might be constitutional and what you could do politically and what you should do. And I think leaving a vacancy for up to four years is not why we’re here. It may be what becomes a litmus test if you’re a true conservative . . .  Just to go on record, I won’t be part of that.”

Flake also added that he did not "detect any" interest from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Senate majority leader, to go along with an indefinite obstruction of Supreme Court nominees. In March, McConnell pledged to support the nominee of whichever candidate wins this upcoming presidential election.

“I believe the overwhelming view of the Republican Conference in the Senate is that this nomination should not be filled, this vacancy should not be filled by this lame duck president . . . The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let’s give them a voice. Let’s let the American people decide. The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the nominee the next president nominates, whoever that might be.”

One can only hope that, in an election filled with broken promises, this is one occasion in which McConnell will keep his word, as well as force his more hyper-partisan colleagues to do likewise.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012, was a guest on Fox Business in 2019, repeatedly warned of Trump's impending refusal to concede during the 2020 election, spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2021, was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022 and appeared on NPR in 2023. His diverse interests are reflected in his interviews including: President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), director Jason Reitman ("The Front Runner"), inventor Ernő Rubik, comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), novelist James Patterson ("The President's Daughter"), epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, voice actor Rob Paulsen ("Animaniacs"), mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), climatologist Michael E. Mann, World War II historian Joshua Levine (consultant to "Dunkirk"), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2013-present), dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2012, 2016), comedian and writer Larry Charles ("Seinfeld"), seismologist John Vidale, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), Senator Martin Heinrich (2013-present), Egyptologist Richard Parkinson, Rep. Eric Swalwell (2013-present), Fox News host Tucker Carlson, actor R. J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad"), theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, biologist and genomics entrepreneur William Haseltine, comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2"), linguistics consultant Paul Frommer ("Avatar"), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (2007-2015), computer engineer and Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.

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Antonin Scalia Elections 2016 Hillary Clinton Mitch Mcconnell President Obama Supreme Court Ted Cruz