Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), a first-term senator facing a tough reelection fight in the blue state of Illinois, broke with his party leadership’s hardline opposition to any nominee President Obama chooses to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In a brief op-ed published by the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday, Kirk writes that he recognizes “the right of the president, be it Republican or Democrat, to place before the Senate a nominee for the Supreme Court and I fully expect and look forward to President Barack Obama advancing a nominee for the Senate to consider.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), by contrast, said almost immediately after news of Scalia’s death broke that “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.” McConnell’s statement has been echoed, at times word for word, by other Republican leaders.
The real question regarding Kirk, however, is whether the Illinois senator actually intends to give Obama’s nominee a fair hearing, or whether Kirk has simply decided that going through the motions of an ordinary confirmation process is the best strategic move for Republicans. Other senators, including Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Dan Coats (R-IN), both indicated that Senate Republicans should go through the ordinary trappings of a Supreme Court confirmation, but they also suggested that, in Coats’ words, “it ought to be somebody who has some adherence to the constitutional position of Justice Scalia to succeed in a Republican-held Congress.”
It is unlikely, to say the least, that Obama will comply with a demand that he send up a younger version of the staunchly conservative justice he seeks to replace. There are also no precedents for a modern president being held to such a standard.
Kirk, for his part, does offer two hints at how the confirmation process could more forward, one of which is potentially ominous for the nominee. He writes that it is his “duty as a senator to either vote in support or opposition to that nominee following a fair and thorough hearing along with a complete and transparent release of all requested information.” While Supreme Court nominees normally comply with extensive information requests from the Judiciary Committee, it remains to be seen whether Senate Republicans will insist that Obama’s nominee capture the Cretan Bull and produce the pelt of the Nemean Lion before the nominee can receive a hearing.
Senator Kirk also writes that he hopes Obama will nominate someone “who can bridge differences, a nominee who finds common ground and a nominee who does not speak or act in the extreme.” If Kirk means someone who has previously enjoyed Republican support and who has shown an ability to work with judges that hold different viewpoints, Obama has many choices that fit this bill. If, on the other hand, Kirk means someone who “finds common ground” with senators that insist that anyone to the left of Scalia is unacceptable, then it is doubtful that such a person exists.