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Opinion: Republicans obstruct on Merrick Garland, just because they can

Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor, and it is Saturday, March 19, 2016. Here's a look back at the week in Opinion.


President Obama has made the Republicans an offer they can't refuse. But refusing they are, as the party in control of Congress has incrementally narrowed the definition of acceptability over the last seven-plus years to this: nothing, at least when it comes to Obama.

Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is about as palatable a nominee for the Supreme Court as Obama could send to the Republicans in the Senate. He's moderate, unquestionably qualified and, at 63, probably won't tilt the ideological balance of the court for as long as many liberals would like.

But none of this matters. To the Republicans, it's the person doing the nominating that makes Garland not even worthy of a hearing. The Times' editorial board calls this behavior "dangerous obstructionism":

Incredibly, Obama and Garland had barely finished a Rose Garden news conference before prominent Republicans reiterated that they would refuse to give Garland fair consideration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dusted off the specious argument that because Obama is in his final year as president, his exercise of his appointment power must be held hostage to the results of the November election. "Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy," McConnell pleaded.

This is a preposterous argument, and a cynical one to boot. The relevant vote of "the people" in this situation is their decision to support Barack Obama for president in 2008 and again in 2012. Perhaps sensing that his assertion was unconvincing, McConnell also cited a non-existent "Biden Rule," which supposedly holds that the Senate shouldn't vote on Supreme Court nominations in a presidential election year.

Finally, McConnell argued that refusing to take action in an election year — regardless of a nominee's qualifications — was justified by language in the Constitution saying the president appoints members of the Supreme Court with the advice and consent of the Senate, meaning that the Senate could refuse consent. This is a tortured and transparently political interpretation of the advice and consent power. Carried to its logical conclusion, it would allow the Senate to exercise its "consent" by never acting on a nomination to the court. ...

The Garland nomination comes at a moment when cynicism and partisan politics in Washington are threatening Congress' ability to do its work, to pass necessary laws, to reach compromise on the basis of shared values and to push the country forward. On Wednesday, President Obama warned, in the rational, non-histrionic manner that we may all be remembering fondly when President Trump controls the White House, that an abdication of the Senate's duty to consider Garland will indicate that the judicial nomination process is "beyond repair."

If Senate Republicans can't be reasoned or shamed into abandoning their obstructionism, the damage won't be confined to this nomination. "It will provoke an endless cycle of more tit-for-tat, and make it increasingly impossible for any president, Democrat or Republican, to carry out their constitutional function," Obama said. "The reputation of the Supreme Court will inevitably suffer. Faith in our justice system will inevitably suffer. Our democracy will ultimately suffer, as well."

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The Republicans are in a no-win situation. Jon Healey lays out the choices for conservatives in the Senate: Confirm Garland and face the wrath of the GOP base, or hold up Obama's eminently reasonable pick and come across as shameless obstructionists to voters in the political center. To readers whose letters to the editor were published on Friday, obstructing the Garland nomination puts Republicans in the latter category.

Merrick Garland: just a regular Ivy League guy who once clerked for a Supreme Court justice. Barack Obama isn't the only president guilty of selling an elite jurist to the American people as a regular working stiff. In 2005, President Bush talked up John Roberts' regular-guy cred as a former mill worker and football-team captain. The cult of the common man is alive and well in America, writes Michael McGough. L.A. Times

SeaWorld has been so successful in making Americans care about orcas that it can no longer breed them in captivity. SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby takes to The Times' op-ed page to explain why his company will end its captive breeding program for the whales — "we need to respond to the attitudinal change that we helped to create" — but will not release the remaining orcas under its care. The Times' editorial board lauds SeaWorld's change of heart: "These enormous animals do not belong in a marine circus, even one with gigantic water tanks."

Surprise! It was another bad week for Donald Trump on The Times' editorial page. First up: An editorial from Tuesday laments the fact that so many Republicans support a candidate "whose reckless rhetoric encourages and condones violence" and who "said of a protester that he'd like to punch him in the face, and who longed for the 'old days' when hecklers were 'carried out on a stretcher.'" Next up: An editorial from Friday tells Trump that a brokered convention "is no reason to riot."

Jon Stewart, where are you? Laughter can help us cope with the 2016 election and other traumas. Listen to Patt Morrison's podcast interview with Loma Linda University medical researcher Lee Berk, who applies his work on the healing power of laughter to the election: "There is a sense of laughter that is encased in coping: I'm laughing because I don't want to cry, I'm laughing because I don’t know what else to do. A lot of Americans are perceiving a lot of what’s going on right now with elections as being beyond silliness, so a coping modality is to laugh or chuckle at it." Read a transcript of the interview here.

L.A. is hellhole of traffic madness, but hey, the tacos are good. Gawker's Hamilton Nolan trolls any Angeleno who has ever said "yeah, but" in response to complaints about the general ugliness of a city choked by cars: "Will we ever really learn what Los Angeles looks like? Will we ever get a chance to sample all of this sunny burg’s alleged charms? Perhaps in 81 hours. Until then, we idle. Trapped. They sell tacos everywhere you know." Ouch. Gawker

A report to the UC Board of Regents dangerously conflates anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. The University of California system has been dealing with complaints that protests against the policies of Israel have crossed the line into harassment of Jewish students. But in its honorable attempt to address these incidents by weighing a proposed set of Principles Against Intolerance, the regents should reject an attempt to equate honest criticism of Israel with discrimination against Jewish students. L.A. Times

I like to read feedback. If you have some, email paul.thornton@latimes.com.

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