Dear Sen. Rubio,
In the past, you have been very clear about filling a Supreme Court vacancy during an election year. Don’t do it, you said.
Here are your exact words: “I don’t think we should be moving forward with a nominee in the last year of this president’s term. I would say that even if it was a Republican president.” That was your reaction in March 2016 when then-President Barack Obama tried to fill the seat left open by the death of Antonin Scalia, the originalist lion of the court. Your quote came months, not weeks, before a presidential election.
As the senior senator from Florida, your word carries great weight. After all, we are the third-largest state and an important swing state in the presidential election, now six weeks away. The voters of Florida should expect principled consistency, correct? What you opposed then, you still oppose today, yes? What’s different this time?
There is one thing. The president was a Democrat then and a Republican now. So let’s review your words again: “Even if it was a Republican president.” Well, that seems to cover it.
Since you have a key role to play in replacing the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you, of course, will be glad to forcefully tell the president that he should wait until after the election to nominate a justice. A White House and a Republican Senate majority, if they were confident of victory (that is, if they were sure a majority of the people supported them), would be more than happy to await the election results. That would avoid any messy claims of illegitimacy cast by those pesky Democrats. It would also be consistent with your public pronouncements. Even in these fractious times, integrity still matters. Right?
Senator, have the courage of your convictions. Go public and tell the president to wait. Join Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and say you won’t consider a nominee before the election. If the president and the Republican-controlled Senate truly have the backing of the American electorate, everything will work out just fine. Election Day will rain victory down upon the GOP, and the president will be able to nominate a justice, knowing that he has the backing of the American people. Even the Democrats would have to agree, if grudgingly.
But if the president forces the issue now — and perish the thought — were to lose the election and take the Republicans down with him, how legitimate would it look to have forced through a nominee so close to a bitterly contested election? That poor justice’s reputation would forever be tainted by power politics, which the Supreme Court is supposed to abhor. That same justice, nominated and confirmed after the election, would face none of those slings and arrows. Worse, if the Democrats win, who knows what they might do, embittered by this episode and drunk with new power?
If you told them they weren’t playing fair or being consistent, what might they do? Justice Scalia grew up in Queens, Justice Ginsburg in Brooklyn, but it’s a Bronx cheer that comes to mind.
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news