This may not even be a tough one for Obama.
The leading candidate widely identified by other observers, Indian-born Sri Srinivasan, might be tempting as a lower-profile diversity hire.
But getting Republicans to oppose a well-known black female in an election year could be street-agitation gold, and a boon for any Democratic presidential candidate.
A leading Supreme Court analyst thinks Attorney General Loretta Lynch is the “most likely candidate” to replace the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Tom Goldstein, who runs the influential SCOTUSblog, had earlier predicted Ninth Circuit Judge Paul Watford would make the top of President Obama’s shortlist. But in a revised blog post, Goldstein said he now believes Lynch is the leading contender.
Lynch is a “very serious possibility,” Goldstein wrote. “The fact that Lynch was vetted so recently for attorney general also makes it practical for the president to nominate her in relatively short order.”
Her recent vetting not only makes it practical; it makes it harder for Senate Republicans — a large number of whom voted for her appointment as attorney general — to credibly oppose the Supreme Court appointment.
Of course, the office she’d be proposed for is a different one. It would have a broader and more lasting impact on the course of government in America.
But remember who Mitch McConnell is, and consider how much reliance you place on his assurances. Maybe we can rely on him in this case; I’m not going to handicap it either way. But that, in itself, is actually the point. If it’s 50-50 in your mind, it means you think there’s a reason to not place reliance on McConnell.
Interestingly, Rush Limbaugh raised this concern today. In discussing it, he highlighted the freighted word “gridlock” in media coverage of McConnell’s statement, reading it as a salvo meant to terrify Republicans about the specter of a government shutdown, if they are “obstructionist.”
We may or may not get to see how far Democrats are willing to push that. They have the Democratic seats in the Senate to force that kind of gridlock, on one or more pretexts, and then fan the media fires of blame for Republicans. But the bigger payoff may be in defaming Republicans for their motives, as we near the general election. (There’s a scenario in which the Democrats could achieve both, for that matter.) What it may all turn on is how “politicize-able” the Obama SCOTUS nomination is.
If it’s Sri Srinivasan, the noisy constituencies aren’t there to make it a big deal in terms of “racism” and “social justice” heading toward November. Even Paul Watford — the black appeals-court judge named by Goldstein — doesn’t have the profile and public aura to launch a million bumper stickers, as Loretta Lynch does.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders could hoot and holler to tremendous effect for months over “obstructionism” against her.
Most importantly, the media would pay the very most attention to divisive cries of “racism!” about a blocked Lynch nomination.
It would require more courage on principle for Republicans to take a blanket stand against Lynch than it would to take the same stance against other nominees.
Maybe Obama will decide it’s taking the high road, to nominate someone who’d have more credentials as a SCOTUS nominee — i.e., a sitting judge, like Srinivasan or Watford — even if such a nominee would be of less interest to the media and Black Lives Matter. Maybe he’ll cut Republicans that break. We can all shout about the nomination for a couple of weeks and then let it fade from the headlines, until the only people who remember that there’s a Supreme Court vacancy at stake are the wonks who spend their days thinking about government in more than one dimension.
Anyone want to open a betting line on that?
Meanwhile, there are still two candidates in the GOP race who could put a hold on the nomination, even if McConnell gets “got” somehow, and knuckles under. Either Cruz or Rubio could do it, acting alone. We don’t know how this will develop, but it could become an act of real political courage to do it.
It’s early days yet. But no one has made any money to date betting against the prospect of Obama choosing to take the radical’s road. That road, in this case, would be framing the SCOTUS nomination to be as political as possible, seen through the lens of divisive racism-politics.