Before we start dancing on the grave of a public servant, can we agree that the continued politicization of the judiciary is a net loss for this country?
The whole structure of the Supreme Court is supposed to help insulate it from popular passions, partisan ambitions, and the general disorder and populism that makes the other two branches such a train wreck in the public eye. The perception of impartiality is part of what makes the judicial branch consistently rated as the most-trusted branch of the government in opinion polls (53% approval is a new low for the courts--either of the remaining branches celebrates reaching up to the low 40s).
It isn't just that people inherently trust the court--it is that they want to trust it, and be able to rely on it to sort out the malarkey of law-making and electioneering that characterizes the rest of the federal system. Laws may not always be popular, but at least when the Supreme Court rules, we know we've heard something very close to the final word on the issue.
Turning court appointments into a partisan tug-of-war is a losing prospect for both parties, exactly because the President and Congress change hands on a regular basis. Trying to extend the influence of one office via court appointments is misguided--and more importantly, a missed opportunity.
The best thing Congress or any President can do in the face of a vacant seat on the bench, is agree to find someone who will restore confidence and trust in the judiciary--and, by extension, the whole American system of government.
This opportunity has never been clearer, nor more desperately needed.
Consider therole of social media in our last two presidential elections: both times, analysts pointed out how Obama's success in engaging and turning out voters through the focused use of social media management translated into success at the polls.
The bottom line is that social media is a key part of the way modern politics are discussed, accessed, and interpreted by the public. Justice Scalia's death is, in this sense, themost visible and talked-about passing of a Supreme Court Justice in history. The scale and speed of social media to spread the news, and layer on analysis and political stakes, is unprecedented.
What this means for Republicans and Democrats alike is that their behavior with respect to the appointment process is highly visible--and under intense scrutiny. Rather than treating it as yet another opportunity to draw lines in the sand and point fingers across the aisle, responsible governance might dictate that both the Republican-dominated Senate, and Obama's Democratic administration, do their best to pick a new Justice that fits a different narrative.
Under the microscope and frenzied quarterbacking of the digital age, this new nominee could be praised for his or her critical thinking ability; for a capacity for thoughtful evolution, rather than dogged devotion to a predefined interpretation of the Constitution; for an infatuation with rigorous discourse, rather than ideological adherence. In short, someone that neither party finds predictable, or reliably partisan.
It isn't idealistic to think that someone might exist who takes a nuanced view of politically-charged issues; that is the very nature of the judiciary, and goes a long way to explain why so manyAmericans are increasingly dissatisfied with their limited options in the two-party system. A justice--like any politically-minded American--might lean one way or the other on any given issue, but that snapshot does not and should not substitute for a full, critical understanding of the full suite of issues within the scope of public policy.
People want a best choice more than a lesser of two evils. Rather than smothering nominees in partisan paint, why not aim to emphasize their skill at their job?American politics, and the decrepit partisan structure built up around it, need a face-lift desperately. Appointing a new justice does not have to follow the same, artificial pattern of bickering and sniping the two parties rely on to mobilize their supporters. If the Senate and the President could make a show of agreeing and collaborating to find a nominee above partisan reproach, the benefit that would have to the country far outweighs any points they could otherwise win for their party by going about business as usual.