Death of the standard bearing conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to force the candidates toward new uncharted shores of political extremism.Flickr

The jaw dropping tone of viciousness and chaos that characterized the Republican presidential debate in South Carolina on Saturday night was a new low in a political season already overflowing with them.

But it was the death of the standard bearing conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, 78, on the eve of Saturday’s debate that seemed to force the candidates toward new uncharted shores of political extremism, leading their onstage bids to outdo each other in pandering to their furthest right support base.

The president must not be allowed to nominate a replacement to the court said most of the candidates. “Delay, delay, delay,” said Donald Trump. “The next president (not this one) should name his replacement,” said Ted Cruz. Marco Rubio and Ben Carson agreed with that view, but Jeb Bush simply said the Senate should reject President Obama’s nomination, whoever it will eventually be.

“Delay, delay, delay,” said Donald Trump.

“Delay, delay, delay,” said Donald Trump.

These are rather contradictory moves from the conservative candidates. Republicans, including Scalia himself, have for decades cited the Constitution and looked to historical precedent to support their own views, but now that they have a major opportunity to be true to their principles we must watch with surprise as they attempt to roadblock the system they previously claimed to support.

But Article II of the Constitution is quite clear. It directs the president to nominate and “By and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate,” appoint judges to the Supreme Court. It does not say his ability to do so disappears in an election year. To be consistent, the GOP candidates and the Senate should do as the Constitution guides them to.

 

 

Increasingly for the modern Republican Party it seems tradition, the Constitution and even reality tend to mean whatever they say they mean, if there’s some passing advantage to be got from it. But even they’ll have problems supporting their own arguments in the clear-cut case ahead.

The United States need a fully functioning Supreme Court and the American people deserve one. The Republican candidates who are threatening to block the president’s eventual nominee will only damage the structure of America's system of government by trying to prevent him from performing his duty as president.

They will also publicly defy the traditions they claim to support. It’s hard to see how they will explain that away.