Jeff Mason covers the White House for Reuters. At Obama’s press conference in Rancho Mirage, California yesterday, Mason asked Obama an obvious question (video below). The White House has posted the transcript of the press conference here and here.
In the video excerpt below, Mason asks Obama how he squares his recent lecture on the Senate’s constitutional duty yada yada regarding the replacement of Justice Scalia with his own support for the filibuster of Justice Alito in 2006. Obama hemmed and hawed and filibustered in the style to which we have grown accustomed when he has no good answer to a straightforward question.
Here is Obama’s answer in its entirety:
Look, I think what’s fair to say is that how judicial nominations have evolved over time is not historically the fault of any single party. This has become just one more extension of politics. And there are times where folks are in the Senate and they’re thinking, as I just described, primarily about, is this going to cause me problems in a primary? Is this going to cause me problems with supporters of mine? And so people take strategic decisions. I understand that.
But what is also true is Justice Alito is on the bench right now. I think that, historically, if you look at it, regardless of what votes particular senators have taken, there’s been a basic consensus, a basic understanding, that the Supreme Court is different. And each caucus may decide who’s going to vote where and what but that basically you let the vote come up, and you make sure that a well-qualified candidate is able to join the bench, even if you don’t particularly agree with them. And my expectation is, is that the same should happen here.
Now, this will be a test — one more test — of whether or not norms, rules, basic fair play can function at all in Washington these days. But I do want to point out, this is not just the Supreme Court. We have consistently seen just a breakdown in the basic functions of government because the Senate will not confirm well-qualified nominees even when they’re voted out of committee, which means that they’re voted by both parties without objection.
And we still have problems, because there’s a certain mindset that says we’re just going to grind the system down to a halt, and if we don’t like the President then we’re just not going to let him make any appointments. We’re going to make it tougher for the administration to do their basic job. We’re going to make sure that ambassadors aren’t seated, even though these are critical countries and it may have an effect on our international relations. We’re going to make sure that judges aren’t confirmed, despite the fact that Justice Roberts, himself, has pointed out there’s emergencies in courts around the country because there are just not enough judges and there are too many cases, and the system is breaking down.
So this has become a habit. And it gets worse and worse each year. And it’s not something that I have spent a huge amount of time talking about, because, frankly, the American people, on average, they’re more interested in gas prices and wages and issues that touch on their day-to-day lives in a more direct way, so it doesn’t get a lot of political attention.
But this is the Supreme Court. And it’s going to get some attention. And we have to ask ourselves as a society a fundamental question: Are we able to still make this democracy work the way it’s supposed to, the way our Founders envisioned it? And I would challenge anyone who purports to be adhering to the original intent of the Founders, anybody who believes in the Constitution, coming up with a plausible rationale as to why they would not even have a hearing for a nominee made in accordance with the Constitution by the President of the United States –with a year left, practically, in office. It’s pretty hard to find that in the Constitution.
Suffice it to say that this act has gotten awfully old.