1. Opinion

Editorial: Obama should nominate Scalia's successor

President Barack Obama has a duty to nominate Antonin Scalia’s successor, and the Senate has the responsibility to decide whether to confirm that nomination.
Published Feb. 15, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's death creates a new partisan fight in Congress and raises the stakes for the presidential election. It does not change the clear intent of the Constitution. President Barack Obama has a duty to nominate Scalia's successor, and the Senate has the responsibility to decide whether to confirm that nomination. To stall and wait for the next president to take office in January would be the wrong approach for the court, the nation and democracy.

Presidents maintain the full authority of the office throughout their terms. There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents presidents from nominating justices or declaring war or issuing executive orders in an election year. There is no common practice for delaying action on Supreme Court vacancies in election years. Supreme Court vacancies have occurred in an election year just twice in the last 80 years, and both times the president nominated someone to fill the vacancy.

Yet within hours of the announcement of Scalia's death Saturday, Republicans were demanding a timeout until a new president takes office. The Republican presidential candidates called on Obama not to nominate Scalia's successor, or for the Republican-led Senate to block confirmation by filibustering or otherwise stalling. That obstructionist approach would be bad for justice and bad politics.

The court faces a number of important issues this year, from abortion restrictions in Texas to Obama's executive orders on immigration to a challenge to public employee unions in California. It is now split 4-4 between liberal and conservative justices, and such a deadlock would merely allow a lower court ruling to stand and set no precedent. The vacancy likely would last more than a year, and that could leave the court effectively paralyzed on any number of important issues. The nation deserves a fully functioning court and finality on the cases before it.

Obama plans to nominate Scalia's successor, and he should nominate someone well-qualified who would be viewed as a moderate candidate. Sri Srinivasan and Merrick Garland, both judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, have been mentioned as two possibilities. Here's another suggestion: Judge Charles Wilson, a Florida native and former U.S. attorney in Tampa now serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

The Democrats have just 46 votes in the Senate, and they will need 14 votes from Republicans to block a filibuster and then five Republican votes for confirmation. The nation has demonstrated it has little patience for partisan obstructions such as the government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act, and the Senate should vote to confirm or reject whomever Obama nominates based on the merits.

At this point, that may be wishful thinking. Scalia's death is another reason why voters should pay closer attention to the presidential candidates' records and less to their bombast. The next president could reshape the Supreme Court, and Scalia was more ideological than other conservative justices before him with the application of his originalist view of the Constitution. Three other justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg (82), Anthony Kennedy (79) and Stephen Breyer (77) — will be in their 80s during the next president's first term. Imagine the Supreme Court nominations that could be made by Donald Trump or Ted Cruz among the Republicans, or by Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side.

Scalia's death has sparked another partisan fight over the authority of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, and that fight further erodes public confidence in the independence and objectivity of the judicial branch. The Constitution provides clear direction. Obama should nominate Scalia's successor, and the Senate should vote whether to confirm or reject the nomination.


  1. 33 minutes ago• Opinion
    Editorial cartoons for Thursday LISA BENSON  |  Washington Post syndicate
  2. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is poised to play a key role in advancing three civil rights protections. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
    A federal judge and the governor send positive signals on restoring rights for felons. But the state has more work to do.
  3. Medal of Honor recipients Retired Army Maj. Drew Dix, left, and Ret. Army Sgt. Maj. Gary Littrell pose for a portrait during the start of the Medal of Honor Convention held at the Tampa Marriott Water Street in Tampa, Florida on Monday, October 21, 2019.  OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Thursday’s letters to the editor.
  4. Former Ambassador William Taylor leaves a closed door meeting after testifying as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    William Taylor demonstrates how to stand up for integrity and national purpose, says columnist Timothy O’Brien
  5. Emmett Till, shown with his mother, Mamie, was murdered in 1955 in Mississippi at age 14.
    Courage is why Emmett Till’s legacy is bulletproof. | Leonard Pitts Jr.
  6. Men and boys pose beneath the body of Lige Daniels, a black man, shortly after he was lynched on August 3, 1920, in Center, Texas.  This scene was turned into a postcard depicting the lynching.  The back reads, "He killed Earl's grandma. She was Florence's mother. Give this to Bud. From Aunt Myrtle." Wikimedia Commons
    Trump faces a constitutional process. Thousands of black men faced hate-filled lawless lynch mobs.
  7. Editorial cartoons for Wednesday CLAY BENNETT  |  Chattanooga Times Free Press
  8. Scott Israel, former Broward County Sheriff speaks during a news conference in September. A Florida Senate official is recommending that the sheriff, suspended over his handling of shootings at a Parkland high school and the Fort Lauderdale airport, should be reinstated. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    The Florida Senate will vote Wednesday whether to remove or reinstate former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel. Facts, not partisan politics, should be the deciding factors.
  9. An ROTC drill team participates in competition.
    Here’s what readers had to say in Wednesday’s letters to the editor.
  10. On Oct. 17, 2019, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney arrives to a news conference, in Washington. On Sunday, Oct. 20, on "Fox News Sunday," after acknowledging the Trump administration held up aid to Ukraine in part to prod the nation to investigate the 2016 elections, Mulvaney defended Trump’s decision to hold an international meeting at his own golf club, although the president has now dropped that plan. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) EVAN VUCCI  |  AP
    Flagrant violations are still wrong, even if made in public. | Catherine Rampell