Not so long ago, state Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce opposed filling a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court in a presidential election year.

Pearce preferred government gridlock to a fully staffed court. He didn’t care if the justice system bogged down as long as his party gained an advantage from the delay.

It was February 2016, the frigid start of presidential primaries. Antonin Scalia, an associate justice of the Supreme Court, had died at age 79.

Scalia had been a conservative vote on the court for 30 years. Senate Republicans wanted Scalia replaced with someone in his own image.

To achieve their goal, they threw a monkey wrench into the government they were supposed to run.

Democratic President Barack Obama had about 11 months remaining in his second and final term. That was plenty of time for him to choose someone for the Supreme Court, and for the Senate to thoroughly consider his nominee.

But with Republicans in control of the Senate, they could thwart Obama by doing nothing.

Obama forged ahead anyway. He nominated Merrick Garland, a federal appellate court judge in Washington, D.C., for the Supreme Court.

As they promised, Republican senators refused to consider Garland. Pearce, then a congressman representing New Mexico, applauded their inaction.

“While I am sure Judge Garland is a qualified and competent judge, we should not let President Obama decide who will fill the shoes of the late Justice Scalia,” Pearce said.

His candor was startling, though Pearce at first didn’t realize he’d revealed himself as an obstructionist.

Pearce admitted Garland would have been a competent addition to the nation’s highest court. But Pearce said shelving Garland’s nomination was fine because Obama was from the rival party.

For years, Pearce had come home to New Mexico and complained about the political infighting in Washington. He made speeches at the state Capitol about how destructive partisan politics had become.

As it turned out, Pearce didn’t object to vicious partisanship in Washington. He only minded losing.

To get a political victory, Pearce was happy if Republican senators let the Supreme Court operate with eight members instead of nine for more than a year.

Pearce didn’t care that a shorthanded court created the possibility of tie votes crippling businesses involved in civil lawsuits, or that justice might be denied to one side or the other in criminal cases.

The politics of the moment were all that mattered to Pearce. He and the Republican senators hoped their candidate would win the presidency. Then a conservative would fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

That’s how it turned out. Donald Trump was elected president, and he nominated Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch took his seat on the Supreme Court in April 2017, some 14 months after Scalia died.

The politics of filling a Supreme Court vacancy will be even uglier now, after the death of liberal Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Trump could lose his bid for reelection in six weeks, and be out of office in four months.

Likewise, Republicans could lose control of the Senate following the November election.

With their hold on power in doubt, Trump and most of his pals in the Senate will rush to replace Ginsburg.

Politics is their motivation, and politics is all that can stop them.

A rush to judgment in replacing Ginsburg will be risky for Republican senators in tough races this fall.

Four are especially susceptible to a backlash. Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Thom Tillis of North Carolina could alienate voters if they participate in Trump’s plan to fill the Supreme Court vacancy before the election.

In the interest of self-preservation, they might hold off Trump. Polls rather than conscience probably will guide them.

In Colorado, Gardner knows he could weaken his reelection bid by backing Trump this time.

McSally keeps losing ground in her race against Democrat Mark Kelly in Arizona. She might be desperate enough to give Trump what he wants in hopes of invigorating her fading campaign.

Waiting until the election is over and the president is sworn in would be the fairest course for selecting Ginsburg’s successor.

But fairness won’t matter anymore than it did when Pearce said a qualified nominee should be blocked.

Trump will try to force his hand. The question is whether enough Republican senators will resist him to save their own careers.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(43) comments

Mike Johnson

"Risky".....Ha! What a stupid interpretation, just wishful thinking from a left wing/socialist. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to cement a conservative super-majority in SCOTUS! #FillTheSeat

Robert Bartlett

Poor Milan. There is an elephant (no political pun intended) in the room that he has to ignore each day in order to cheer up the democrat troops. It is time to pull the plug on Joe Biden. Everyone knows this, especially his wife. You just can't be Commander -in-Chief using a teleprompter. This charade is painful to watch, indecent at best and makes a mockery of our election process and system of government.

Bill Cass

Speaker Pelosi is not threatening to impeach Trump if he does exactly what the constitution requires him to do.

Carlos Montoya

A different perspective: for those of you who might believe in extraterrestrials!

They have been among us for centuries and had much to do about the changing of our DNA! Peter rise the possibility the Trump and the Republicans are reptilian! And mind you they have discovered 120 species of extra terrestrials thus far! The Reptilians are not our friends and they wish to destroy us! Which big is the question what has saved us from them in the past? Something to mull over from this different perspective!!

Do one do I know the answers? Of course I do!

Spencer Ralston

Don’t you love autocorrect? I meant to say “Think trump would agree to that?” Yeah, right.

Emily Koyama

So two wrongs make a right.....

Emily Koyama

Mr Ralston,

I'm not going to look them all up for you ....you seem to have plenty of time on your hands.

There are quite a few speeches and comments Biden has made that certainly raise concerns about his cognitive abilities... Do a little research, stop watching MSNBC and CNN so much, and I think you will find what you're looking for. (Or, maybe you aren't looking.)

Khal Spencer

Turns out I like Neil Gorsuch so far. Not every day that I am surprised but his knowledge of Western issues, most recently expressed in his opinions on Native American issues, including collaboration with the late Assoc. Justice Ginsburg, is pretty cool. I hope he turns into another David Souter. But otherwise, the rank hypocrisy of the GOP surprises me not at all. They, even more than my own party, show that power trumps precident when it comes to getting their agenda done.

I say more than my own because it was my own party that first relaxed the Senate rules for confirming a Federal judge, and so the GOP just took that precedent and pushed it all the way down the field.

But elections have consequences. As you say, Milan, this may create even more of a backlash against the Trump years. I foresee, if this appointment is approved just days or weeks ahead of Election or Inauguration Day, the time when the Dems will succeed in packing the court as FDR once tried to do. Perfectly legal in terms of the Constitution, but will succeed in deepening the abyss. In those FDR days, it was Roosevelt's own party that decided this was a bad move. Nowadays, nothing is too low a blow in politics and decency is the first casualty.

Steve Pearce, meanwhile, is in my opinion, a failure. He lost to Lujan-Grisham in a landslide and has chaired a state GOP that is increasingly looking like it is doing a reenactment of Custer at Little Big Horn.

Barry Rabkin

Pack to your heart's content ... but hope that the Democrats always hold the White House and the Senate for decades and decades to come.

Khal Spencer

We might just do that. Or, conversely, every time power switches hands, we will get more court packing from the other side. Ready for a Supreme Court made up of fifty one justices some day?

David Martinez

I hear that democrat plans for court packing are in the works, 20 Justices to start.

Indrid Cold

New Mexico ranks near the bottom in education, near the top in crime and #1 for the WORST place to raise a child... and you feel Steve Pearce is a failure? ...and speaking of hypocrisy... it took Clinton just over 40 days to appoint Ginsburg...and democrats LOOOVE science, except when they have to argue abortion and gender. Aren’t New Mexicans tired of being the laughing stock of the entire country? My grandmother used to tell me to always vote democrat, because “they’re for the Spanish.” God rest her soul, she was right... In exchange for her vote, dems tossed free money, food stamps, welfare etc at her and kept her down. We need change in New Mexico. Anyone that can’t see the struggles we’re having is either privileged or delusional.

Khal Spencer

Yes, Pearce is a failure as state GOP chair. What do you call Democrats holding supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature as well as the AG and Governor's mansion? Sure, I guess if you think losing political power entirely is a good idea, then Steve Pearce is not a failure. To me he is an abject failure because I happen to appreciate a somewhat viable two party system.

Mike Johnson

Well said, MLG is also a failure, as NM sits near the bottom of the worst unemployment list, and near the top of the per capita deaths from COVID, not a success in any way on any item. And MLG made all the decisions to see this result all by herself. She is an abject failure. But the sheeple of NM keep electing the same kind of trash for most all offices, and expect a different outcome, insanity, by definition.

Barry Rabkin

The only 'Rule' that any president should comply with are the rules of the US Constitution. Trump is constitutionally authorized to select a candidate for the SCOTUS and to send that candidate for the 'advice and consent' of the US Senate. RBG was selected as a candidate by Clinton and confirmed in 42 days. Why is it wrong for a president to nominate and have confirmed a candidate who is American instead of a Progressive?

David Ford

So then Barry, there should be no doubt in your mind that Merrick Garland should have been confirmed in 2016.

Robert Bartlett

Nope, they never had the votes.

Khal Spencer

So why didn't they have the guts to hold a hearing and vote him down? Were they just cowards? Advice and consent means you do your job.

Khal Spencer

[beam] touche'

Jim Klukkert

[thumbup][cool]

Barry Rabkin

There is no doubt that the US Constitution does NOT stipulate the limit of how many days, weeks, or months that the US Senate can take before making a decision. The Senate decision, by the way, can be to not confirm. Mitch made a calculated bet and he won that bet. But his actions complied with the US Constitution.

Barry Rabkin

There is no doubt in my mind that the US Constitution does not limit the number of days, weeks, or months (or years) that the US Senate has to advise and consent (including the Senate's authority to not confirm). Mitch made a bet and he won that bet. But his actions were constitutional.

Augustin de la Sierra

My take: Republican Senators can and will confirm a Far Right Justice to the Court before the election. The High Court will have six Republican-appointed Justices by the time the next President (hopefully Mr. Biden) takes office.

The response of Democrats should be to take control of the Presidency, the Senate and the House, and pass legislation and amendments time and again that the courts cannot get around. From the Washington Post and Princeton Professor Matt Karp yesterday: Lincoln and his Congress simply ignored the High Court's pro-slavery precedents and passed legislation that was anti-slavery. From the Post and Professor Karp: "In June 1862, for instance, Congress passed and Lincoln signed a bill banning slavery from the federal territories — a direct violation of the [Supreme Court's] majority ruling in Dred Scott. The court meekly acquiesced, recognizing that its political power was long since broken.”

Emily Koyama

Trump's list of nominees is well known. In the interest of "fairness" Biden should present HIS list of potential nominees, so voters can see for themselves.

Jay Bunker

Fairness is a meaningless concept in the Trumpublican world view.

Emily Koyama

So are you saying he should keep his list secret? Why would he do that? Probably because he knows that many of his nominees would turn off swing state voters. So we have a transparency issue with Biden already.....

Indrid Cold

You reek of Santa Fe.

Khal Spencer

He says he will nominate a woman. Probably Amy Coney Barrett.

Mike Johnson

I disagree Khal, nominating and then confirming Judge Lagoa, Latinx, from Florida, young, conservative, the dream pick.

Barry Rabkin

"fairness" has absolutely no place in politics and absolutely no place at the level of Federal politics.

Mark Stahl

Tell that to the current president who whines incessantly, like an adolescent, about how unfair he is treated.

Barry Rabkin

I didn't vote for Trump in 2016 and have no plans to vote for him this time. He can wail and whine all he wants.

Jim Klukkert

@Emily Koyama- Great idea, and that should happen AS SOON AS TRUMP RELEASES HIS TAX RETURNS! [beam] I wonder what is wrong with Trump's returns. Maybe his accounts are having trouble converting Rubles to Dollars?

Barry Rabkin

You do realize there is no requirement in the US Constitution for any presidential candidate to realize his or her tax returns.

I never voted for Trump but I believe the attempts to get his tax returns are based on pure hatred of him. I hope he finds ways to confound these attempts for decades to come.

Jim Klukkert

@Barry Rabkin- whatever one's feelings for Trump, the rather exceptionally GOOD Reason to see the tax returns is to gain insight into the finances of any candidate. What has any candidate been up to, and to whom might she/he be beholden?

With Trump's many sketchy schemes, and his rather amazing ability to default on huge loans to major international players, including Deutsche Bank, raises some eyebrows. Deutsche Bank is currently in the news for laundering staggering amounts of funds for mega-criminals, as well as arranging an 8 million USD loan from Putin to UK's Conservative party.

There are many other loose threads in the world of international finance, and the average American Joe or Josefina deserves to know the full record of folks who want to lead the US.

I urge you to go a little deeper Barry. Trump's long suit is to turn up the emotional heat, feed the media, and stir the feelings of at least his base if not the entire electorate. Trump does this to mask his foolishness and duplicity. When he loses Presidential Power, we will see him in court on numerous credible charges.

Which is why Trump will do anything to stay in the Oval Office.

Jim Klukkert

and yes, Barry Rabkin, I do realize there is no requirement in the US Constitution for any presidential candidate to realize his or her tax returns.

As Khal might say, there is no requirement in the US Constitution for any presidential candidate to wear his or her pants.

Though most of us won't vote for naked candidates.

Khal Spencer

"As Khal might say, there is no requirement in the US Constitution for any presidential candidate to wear his or her pants."

Gotta laugh. This administration is the best example in my sixty-some years on this planet that the emperor indeed has no clothes.

Emily Koyama

I honestly could care less about Trump's tax returns at this point..... the Supreme Court is far, far, more important.

I think you will find that health care, Abortion rights, the economy, COVID 19, dealing with China, etc are also more important to the majority of the voters (left, right, center) than Trump's tax returns as well. Let's discuss issues that really matter.

Since total transparency is your focus, how about an INDEPENDENT evaluation, made fully public, of Biden's cognitive state. Think he will go for that? Yeah, right.

Spencer Ralston

Emily, WTF are you talking about? There’s nothing apparently amiss with Biden’s cognitive state. There’s only smear tactics by Right Wingers which haven’t worked. I’ve got an idea, how about Independent psychoanalysis reports of both trump and Biden? Think trump would stress to that? Yeah, right.

Jim Klukkert

@ Emily Koyama- I believe that the issues you raise are important, but do not exclude a genuine interest in how a candidate or an office holder might be behold to large financial interests, much less international powers including state and non-state actors.

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides a remedy should a President's inability to perform his duties. Perhaps we should allow a free and unfettered election to decide the issue, or in popular opinion, the non-issue of Vice President Joe Biden's cognitive state.

Our discussion is rather moot, given the state of things. You want to downplay the issue of Trump's tax returns; I want to make sure the issue of Trump's tax returns hangs on the likely influence of large financial interests, international powers and foreign actors.

The issue of Trump's tax returns is not a function, as Barry Rabkin wrote, "pure hatred" of Trump. The issue is of the foreign pressures to which Trump will respond.

Stefanie Beninato

Should he take the five question test for dementia that Trump could not wait to tell the world he had passed. Trump is a pathetic egotist

Barry Rabkin

I continue to have no interest in Trump's tax returns or the tax returns of any candidate for president regardless of whether they are Democrat or Republican (or Independent). No interest at all. I couldn't care less if they gave $0.00 to charities, lost money on their investments, or spent their money in a way that I couldn't or don't.

(Thankfully, the NM laws do authorize the governor to issue her PHOs during a pandemic. There are a great many actions that State and Federal Laws exclude or don't address: none of that enables any logical reasoning that a presidential candidate should share his or her tax returns if they don't want to that. Juvenile reasoning, yes, but not logical reasoning... nothing says I have to wear pants so a candidate for president should share their tax returns. Juvenile reasoning ... at best.)

Jim Klukkert

@Barry Rabkin- My apologies, Barry, if my reply to your comment seemed in any way insulting. I did not intend to belittle or mock.

We have differing points of view regarding the disclosure of financial records by candidates.

From his activities for decades in New York and the Northeast in general, Trump is widely regarded as a fraudster and a con man. That's all in the past except that he is arguably at the helm of the most powerful nation on earth.

That gives me cause for great concern.

I respect your input on these pages, and wish you the best.

Welcome to the discussion.

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