In early 2016, Antonin Scalia passed away in his sleep, leaving a seat open on the Supreme Court of the United States. The intended procedure for replacing a Supreme Court Justice is fairly simple: the president nominates a successor and the Senate approves this nomination. However, Republicans famously refused to vote on a nomination. Instead, they waited until after the presidential election so that they could approve a conservative candidate. Mitch McConnell, and many other Republican senators, were fiercely criticized for this, and many wondered how Democrats would respond. In the midst of this political chaos, Michelle Obama gave a famous speech in which she said, “When they go low, we go high”, meaning that when Republicans do something immoral or underhanded, it was the responsibility of Democrats to maintain the moral high ground and their dignity. While this strategy is a noble one, I don’t believe that it is an effective one, and with the recent death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it’s important that they don’t make the same mistake.
Michelle Obama claims that when we go low, “We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight.” She urges Democrats to maintain their integrity and to refrain from underhanded tactics. In an ideal world, I would unequivocally agree with her; however, in the world we live in, there are unfortunate inconsistencies between the moral and the political. Oftentimes, the worst of us are the ones that effectively pass legislation. The nomination of Antonin Scalia’s successor is a perfect example of this. President Obama maintained the moral high ground, he denounced the actions of the Senate but effectively did nothing. What did the Republicans do? They won. They successfully nominated a conservative Supreme Court Justice who can effectively push their agenda for years to come. Democrats can “go high” all they want, and Republicans will continue to go low and pass legislation that’s important to their base. I respect the sentiment expressed by Michelle Obama, but I don’t believe that it can effectively combat injustice. If Democrats refuse to play the game, then they’ve already lost.
If you find the idea of abandoning democratic principles repugnant, I don’t blame you. However, Republicans are already doing this; they have already abandoned decorum and the proper democratic processes so that they can underhandedly pass legislation. The morally correct thing to do would be to combat this, and you can’t combat it by letting Republicans do whatever they want. In 2016, President Obama could have appointed a Supreme Court Justice without the consent of the Senate. He would have had to “go low,” but it also would have prevented Republicans from effectively stealing a Supreme Court seat.
Ruther Bader Ginsburg’s passing has left a seat open on the Supreme Court, and it seems as though Republicans will be fast-tracking a nomination, in spite of the obvious hypocrisy. Once again, Republicans will go low, and if they succeed, it will create a 6-3 conservative majority on the Court. I’m unsure if Democrats have any way to prevent the appointment considering that the Republicans control the Senate. But, if they find a way, I hope that they will go low, for our sake.