Not Quite Judy, Another Garland at the "Top"
As a little girl, I worshiped Judy Garland. She was a marvelous entertainer--before the Chers, Madonnas, and Brittanys of the world, she was a top-rate performer who transcended a lifetime of pain to dazzle audiences world-wide. Her inability to find happiness was tragic, but she brought attention to the shortcomings of fame through her constant struggles. The scrutiny of public opinion was fatal for Ms. Garland, but hopefully it will be less so for Judge Garland, as his confirmation hearings will no doubt prove intense.
Two days ago, President Obama announced his nominee to fill the role of the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court: Merrick Garland. As is typical in a post-Borkian era of the judicial nomination process, the current appellate judge has already been profiled extensively by the media; their research far exceeds anything I could provide. (If you do not know much about Garland, some of the most helpful sources I have found are from NPR, The New York Times, and USA Today,)
Regardless of his own politics, which certainly warrant adroit scrutiny and intense analysis, this nomination has become hijacked in a way by the presidential election that neither of President Obama's previous nominees (Kagan and Sotomayer) had. To be fair, this is a contentious election year with an open seat and it would be impossible to imagine how this unexpected event of fulfilling a SC seat could *not* have implications on the election and the political balance more generally. Republicans demand that the current administration wait with the hopes that one of their own will be elected in November and then able to determine the new nominee while Democrats urge the president to go on with the replacement process given the amount of time left until the election and without knowing whether they will win the general election. Right now, there is a precarious 4-4 balance of liberals (Sotomayer, Ginsberg, Kagan, and Breyer) and conservatives (Thomas, Kennedy, Alito, and Roberts) that instantly became tipped to a near-perfect balance upon arch-conservative Scalia's death.
Because the President has already made his nomination official and because many of the Republicans have already claimed they will not continue with the nomination process, we are left with a real-life application of game theory. Republicans can't back down and disregard their rhetoric about refusing the nomination, else they look weak and overtly conciliatory to voters they need to impress in November. Likewise, Obama's selection of Garland upset many Democrats who were hoping for a more liberal, diverse candidate to tip the judicial scales back in their favor but such a nomination would have easily provided the counterargument for refusal that the Republicans needed. Both parties are playing a game of risk here with two major pay-offs.
Short-term, they need to win the general election. The House will likely remain Republican but the Democrats are hoping to take back the Senate after Republicans captured it swiftly in 2014. Republicans are hoping to keep their hold on Congress but also expand into the White House with the presidency. Long-term, the fate of all future judicial rulings (at least until Ginsberg's retirement, assuming based on age/health that she will be next) is at stake. The 5-4 conservative leaning of the Court more recently has given Republicans an edge (think Citizens United) though the swing vote of Kennedy and occasional unanticipated rationale of Roberts (i.e. Affordable Care Act) has played in favor of Democrats, too.
Beyond November, this nomination, or if it fails, the subsequent nomination(s), will continue to come under extreme public scrutiny because of the substantial ramifications they have. Regardless of which political party, ideology, or personal preference you feel yourself, the legitimacy of the system nesseciates stringent confirmation hearings and a vote. For our current elected officials, it is imperative they follow the process established by the US Constitution. Before we vote in the general election, they must evaluate Garland's merits and creditinals and then vote according to their own principles. The system deserves it.