William Blake, an assistant professor of political science at UMBC, and Hans Hacker, an associate professor of political science at Arkansas State University, wrote an Op-ed in the Baltimore Sun in response to the controversy sparked by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
President Barack Obama has the duty to nominate a capable individual to fill the newfound vacancy. His appointee would then undergo a strenuous confirmation process conducted by the Senate Judiciary Committee. After the proceedings, a vote is taken by the entire Senate and the candidate needs to receive a majority of the votes to be confirmed.
The Senate is currently controlled by the Republican Party.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has clearly expressed his opinion on the matter. According to CNN, he said, “presidents have a right to nominate, just as the Senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent. In this case, the Senate will withhold it.”
Thus, we are likely to see a continuation of the congressional/executive deadlock we have become accustomed to observing.
Blake and Hacker, though, came up with a pragmatic solution to the complex issue in their piece, titled “Bring back Justice O’Connor.”
As the title suggests, the pair think ex-Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor would serve as a viable appointee to break the partisan stalemate. O’Connor served on the Supreme Court from 1981 until 2006, before retiring to take care of her ill husband.
O’Connor was nominated by Republican President Ronald Reagan, but consistently displayed an ability to consider both sides of every argument. She was unafraid to vote the “liberal way” on particular issues, voting in favor of affirmative action policies, environmental regulations and abortion rights.
Blake and Hacker go on to explain that “during her time on the bench, Justice O’Connor was frequently labeled the court’s swing justice, but that term is deceptive. It’s not that she’s some easily-swayed judicial fence-sitter; it’s that her jurisprudence doesn’t fit neatly into an ideological box. She crafted carefully worded opinions, deciding cases on narrow legal grounds to prevent unforeseen social consequences.”
Blake explained the origins of their article, stating, “the concern that motivated our Op-ed was making sure that the Court was fully staffed. With 8 justices, many important cases could end with a 4–4 vote, which does not set a precedent. Getting a case to the Supreme Court is extremely difficult, and those litigants who do go before the Court deserve a definitive answer to the legal question they raise.”
When asked if Obama should have to bend and compromise with the Senate, his reply was both realistic and hopeful. “A Supreme Court appointment gives a president a legacy that could last decades after he or she has left the White House. It would be hard for President Obama to give that up in order to find a short-term compromise that serves the best interest of the Court,” Blake said.
He added, “We wrote the Op-ed in the hopes that, if it went viral, someone in the Obama administration would give much stronger consideration to the virtues of a short-term solution.”
And viral it went. Shortly after it was published, the article was reposted and shared through various social media sites and accredited publications. The piece would receive more notoriety than Blake likely anticipated. He would later receive a call from CNN asking him to talk live on air about the Op-ed.
“CNN sent a car service to campus to pick me up and take me to their DC studios. That was a little surreal,” he confessed.
He elaborated, “I was definitely excited, but not nearly as excited as my friends and family. I was not as nervous as I thought I would be. A good friend of mine had given me some pointers on how to handle interviews like these.”
While appearing on one of the most renowned political cable news networks in the nation was thrilling, that alone wasn’t the most exciting product of the Op-ed to Blake. “The most amazing thing about the whole episode was that by the end of the same day, a local TV reporter in Phoenix, where Justice O’Connor lives, had asked her about our op-ed,” he said.
Obama has yet to nominate a replacement, although many are speculating he will do so in the near future.