Duty calls

When Justice Antonin Scalia died on Feb. 12 or 13, congressional Republicans and some conservatives immediately started spreading the notion that the next president should choose his replacement.

Nevada columnist Thomas Mitchell referred to the president as a lame duck, which he is not—Merriam-Webster: “an elected official or group continuing to hold political office during the period between the election and the inauguration of a successor.”

Most Democrats, but also many everyday citizens, objected to the idea that this president should not perform all of his functions like any other president. Unfortunately, as concerned citizens subsequently learned, Democrats like Joe Biden and Patrick Leahy once opposed letting the second George Bush appoint in his last months. It so often happens this way—citizens who want to oppose Republican policies find themselves undercut by the Democrats. The Democratic Party has become such a me-too party that the country ends up held hostage to Washington, D.C., games played by both parties.

With Democrats tainted by their own hypocrisy, what should people who oppose the Republican opposition to an Obama appointment think?

The fact remains that Republicans have long treated this president differently, something that has not been done to Republican presidents. The Scalia matter is one more instance of Republicans who seem to consider Obama less than a full president. It was just last April that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee urged that people considering military service wait until after Obama left office before joining up. We are always reluctant to raise race as an issue, but it is difficult to understand what it is about this president that bothers Republican leaders to such an extent that they would consider his time in office as less than valid.

Scalia died in mid-February. Presidents take office on Jan. 20. There’s no good reason that any president should fail to perform his duties for 11 months of the term.

Fortunately, there are conservatives whose fidelity to principle is greater than their loyalty to party. One of them is Nevada’s U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, with whom we seldom agree on much of anything. But on this matter, he has stood by the Constitution over the Republican Party, winning him a denunciation from a talk show host named Hugh Hewitt—“This is, to put it mildly, an ’exercise in maximum discretion.’ Blunt people might call it ’cowardly.’”—who apparently believes in that article of the Constitution that says Barack Obama does not enjoy the full powers of the presidency.

In the race for Nevada’s other U.S. Senate seat—senators must confirm any Obama nominee—likely Democratic nominee Catherine Cortez Masto opposes any interference with the president’s functions.

Republican Joe Heck said in a prepared statement, “The president has the right and prerogative to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia, just as the Senate has the right and prerogative to confirm or not confirm the President’s nominee. Each entity should exercise its prerogative.” Those are nice thoughts, but they commit Heck to nothing, least of all to shedding partisanship. Moreover, the phrasing is incomplete. Here’s our version:

The president should do his duty and appoint a qualified nominee. Senators should do their duty, scrutinize the nominee with fairness and then vote.

He will. They mostly won’t. Remember this when November comes.