Tag Archives: republican

Vacancy Cycle

An elephant representing the Grand Old Party (GOP) refuses to confirm Supreme Court vacancies until a Republican president is elected.

 

The conflict of “separation of powers” is one that exists epically in American history. Generations of Americans have witnessed the battle of the Supreme Court to maintain its position as a non-partisan institution: fighting off threats from other branches of government to influence it with politics. One example occurred in 1937, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt unsuccessfully proposed the Judicial Procedures Reform Act of 1937 to implant support for his legislation into the courts. The Supreme Court maintained its position, and the resulting conflict was documented by the press, such as in a cartoon by John Knott and in an editorial appearing in the Dallas Morning News. Another confrontation in more recent memory was between a Republican controlled United States Senate and President Barack Ob ama over the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice to fill the vacancy left by Justice’s Antonin Scalia’s sudden death in February of 2016. The refusal of the Senate to hold even a hearing for Merrick Garland, a nominee who had broad bi-partisan support, resulted in a similar anticipation of disaster and destruction of convention by the press. Particularly, the threat of a problematic cycle which would undermine the political institution in which the average Supreme Court Justice confirmation took 25 days (“How Scalia Compared With Other Justices”) was satirized in the same way be the respective medias of each time, as explored through a Mike Luckovich cartoon and a Politco article describing the tension in attempting to secure the Supreme Court vacancy.

In the final months of Barack Obama’s second term as president, he tried to secure a Supreme Court nomination to fill the seat left behind by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016. However, due to a political interest in nominating a Supreme Court Justice who would represent the values of the GOP rather than Obama’s Democratic party, the Senate refused to approve the nominations proposed by Obama. Historically, the Supreme Court has had a reputation of high esteem in the public view, as it has the final say of the law and the Justice holds their position until they either retire or die. The conflict of failing to secure a nomination to fill the vacancy created anxiety amongst the American public and press, as this sort of political pandering over something as pure as the Supreme Court was seemingly unprecedented.

This anxiety is illustrated in a March 11, 2016 cartoon by Mike Luckovich called “The Court”. The two-panel cartoon depicts the strategy led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and the Republican controlled Senate at the time. In the first panel, an elephant wearing a suit, which represents the GOP, states “I’ll ignore the Constitution and block filling the Supreme Court vacancies until there’s a GOP President…” The second panel of the cartoon shows the same elephant standing in a court room, and the bench labeled “Supreme Court”, is completely vacant with spider webs between the vacant seats. The calendar on the wall has the year “2036”, on it, and the elephant has his finger’s crossed and eyes closed, saying “…C’mon 2040…”. The cobwebs also suggest that this stubbornness will inhibit the nomination of not only the vacancy that existed in 2016, but all other vacancies which would eventually present themselves over the course of 20 years. The cartoon therefore suggests that the refusal of the Senate to confirm a nomination in 2016 would continue into 2036 and onwards until a GOP president is elected to nominate a viable judge.

This viewpoint is also articulated in a Politco article from March 29, 2016 called “The Supreme Court: The Nightmare Scenario”. In it, Richard Primus describes the threat of a devolution of political convention with the stagnancy of filling the Supreme Court vacancy. He states:

“That bigger threat is this: The stalemate isn’t time-limited and it isn’t stable. It could last a lot longer than the present election cycle, and if it does, the conflict over Justice Scalia’s successor could escalate far beyond its current dimensions. This is because the Supreme Court’s role in American government rests on a set of conventions for avoiding all-out political conflict—and once those conventions start to crumble, there’s no way to tell how it will end,” (Primus).

Specifically, a nightmare scenario would in theory be possible, though not necessarily probable, where the Republican Senate would continue to refuse to confirm a Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton if she ario does not occur exactly, the threat of the destruction of political conventions by escalating a conflict in attempting to control the courts is made visible both by the article and the cartoon.

There are some interesting parallels between FDR’s attempt to expand the number of nominations possible to be made and the Republican Senate’s attempt to wait for a Republican nomination in that both were efforts to control the political leanings of the Supreme Court. Specifically, both the Luckovich and Knott cartoons satirized a very immediate and visible result of the respective breaches in power. While the Knott cartoon emphasized that the expansion of FDR’s power would manifest itself through unprecedented third term ambitions, the Luckovich cartoon suggests an eternal vacancy in the Supreme Court due to the stubbornness of a GOP Senate. The most important difference between the two cartoons, however, is the accuracy of their respective predictions. FDR did end up running for and winning a third term, but the GOP did not have to wait until past 2036 for a Republican president: Donald Trump was elected in 2016.

The difference between the Dallas Morning News editorial and the Politico article is the opposite of what occurred between the two cartoons. The 2016 article was a better descriptor of long term implications of the Senate refusal to confirm a Supreme Court vacancy than the editorial was in articulating the long-term implications of “The Judicial Procedures Reforms Bill of 1937”. The editorial suggested that the bill represented a descent into totalitarianism, and today it is known that FDR’s passage of the New Deal did not totally undermine American democracy. However, the observation that the GOP Senate’s behavior represented an escalation which would manifest into the issues of checks and balances beyond 2016 was more accurate. The failure to confirm a Supreme Court Justice nomination did leave only 8 Justices, allowing for 4-4 deadlock votes to occur. For example, the deadlocked vote for United States v. Texas, No. 15-674 allowed for Obama’s executive order to retain over 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to stand without official support from the Supreme Court (“Supreme Court Justice”).

The fact that it took about four months to confirm President Donald Trump’s nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch galvanized the infamy of the Senate’s actions in 2016 to hold the Supreme Court seat open for record breaking amount of time (Berenson 2017). The disruption caused by the actions by the Senate alluded to the abilities for political branches to manipulate the processes of the Supreme Court. Unlike the historians who observe FDR’s actions in 1937, contemporaries can only wait to understand the full contribution to political procedures the Supreme Court vacancy of 2016 had to the American separation of powers.

Works Cited

Berenson, Tessa. “Neil Gorsuch Confirmed: How His Nomination Changed Politics.” Time, Time, 7 Apr. 2017, time.com/4730746/neil-gorsuch-confirmed-supreme-court-year/.

“How Scalia Compared With Other Justices.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Feb. 2016, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/02/13/us/how-long-does-it-take-to-confirm-a-supreme-court-nominee.html.

Primus, Richard. “The Supreme Court: The Nightmare Scenario.” POLITICO Magazine, 29 Mar. 2016, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/03/the-supreme-court-the-nightmare-scenario-213776.

“Supreme Court Justice.” American Law Yearbook 2016A Guide to the Year’s Major Legal Cases and Developments, Gale, 2017, pp. 208-212. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3633800087&it=r&asid=2c6733a6ed017fe3cf7720b2457fb9fc. Accessed 15 Nov. 2017.

Their Fiscal Cliff or Ours?

President Obama attempting to prevent himself from being dragged down a cliff by a blind folded elephant by attempting to hook on to a tree with a cane.
Obama desperately attempts to save both himself and a blind folded Congress from going over the fiscal cliff.

Cartoonist Luo Jie, of the news site China Daily, created a significant portfolio of critical political cartoons addressing global issues. In his humorous cartoon, “Fiscal Cliff,” Luo Jie symbolically depicts the struggle between U.S. President Barack Obama and the ignorant Republican Congressional opposition in their efforts to pass the federal budget for the fiscal year 2013.

Jie’s cartoon, published December 8th, 2012, utilizes several symbols to convey meaning to the viewer: the man in the suit representing Obama; the blindfolded Elephant representing oblivious Republicans; the chain representing the bipartisan requirement to pass the fiscal budget; the other items representing actions regarding fiscal policy. The aggregate of the symbols constitutes a message censuring partisan politics in the United States, mocking both Obama and the Republican Party.

The 112th Congress, in office from 2012 to 2014, consisted of a Democrat-dominated Senate and a Republican-dominated House of Representatives. The ideological split between the Senate and House resulted in severe disagreements, bolstered partisan politics, and stalled policy development (Zeleny). The term “fiscal cliff” earns the name from the impending shift of fiscal policy. The cliff referred to large budget sequestration (reduction of the federal deficit through spending cuts) and the expiration of President George W. Bush era tax cuts. Republicans backed sequestration and opposed the increase on taxes while Democrats backed increasing taxes for only those considered upper-class (Sahadi). Despite the negative connotation of the word “cliff,” the fiscal cliff in its entirety holds the ability to cut the United States budget deficit seventy-five percent by 2022 which would result in significant positive economic impact in the long-run (CBO). Disagreeing with the increase of taxation on the middle class, Democrats pushed for higher taxation on the top two percent of income earners in lieu of the expected increase on middle class taxation hoping to still provide the positive economic benefits of reducing the budget deficit. Across the isle, Republicans refused to tax the wealthy – the vast majority of their campaign donors – resulting in a stand-still in the budget creation process (Jackson).

An article, released the same day as the cartoon, titled “GOP: White House ‘fiscal cliff’ idea ‘a joke’,” analyzes current Speaker of the House Republican John Boehner’s remarks regarding the fiscal cliff talks. Boehner sees the Democratic fiscal cliff proposition as an insult to the Republican Party and excoriates Democrats for not focusing more on cutting the budget, and relying almost exclusively on a tax increase (Jackson).

The humor in Jie’s cartoon consists of several layers generated by the visual representation of Obama and the elephant. Obama’s struggle to latch onto the tree of “THE RICH” with the cane of “RAISING TAXES” exists as the focal point of the cartoon due to Obama’s fight to keep both himself and the elephant alive. The mien of Obama, is that of panic and worry, signifying that Democrats truly believe the best and possibly only solution to avert going over the fiscal cliff is to keep the tax cuts for the middle class and increase taxation for the upper class. Meanwhile, the blind-folded elephant, the Republican dominated Congress, attempts to casually keep walking not realizing there is a cliff in front of it. The two branches of government chained together depicts the requirement of different parties to work together in order to accomplish anything. Unfortunately for President Obama, the elephant does not realize the impending danger of the situation, representative of Congress’ uncompromising rejection of raising taxes on the wealthy. The panicked expression of Obama lets the viewer understand the importance of the situation, but when contrasted with the blinded elephant’s absent minded actions allows the reader to laugh at Obama’s pain and the naivety of the Republican party.

The humor parallels that of John Knott’s 1931 cartoon titled “No Time For Fiddling!” in which Knott portrays Congress as an oaf who quite literally is fiddling around – playing a fiddle labeled “partisan politics” – while the world burns. The cartoon denounces the U.S. Congress for its inability to come together to act on the impending threat, later resulting in the Great Depression. Partisanship remains the biggest obstacle for functional and effective government, and cartoonists like John Knott and Luo Jie continue to criticize the institutions’ failures for years to come.

Partisan Politics serve as the biggest hinderance to change, and oftentimes, even in the face of an impeding crisis, opposing parties refuse to work together. Eventually Congress and the White House will probably become uniform and under one party, but until then President Obama will have to compromise with his Republican controlled House of Representatives.

Works Cited:

Congressional Budget Office. Economic Effects of Policies    Contributing to Fiscal Tightening in 2013. CBO, 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Jackson, Jill. “GOP: White House ‘fiscal cliff’ Idea ‘a joke'” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

Jie, Luo. Fiscal Cliff. Digital image. ChinaDaily. CDIC, 8 Dec. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Knott, John F. “No Time for Fiddling!” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News[Dallas] 15    Dec. 1931: n.pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

Sahadi, Jeanne. “Fiscal Cliff: Next President’s First Big Problem to Solve.”CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 6 Nov. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

Zeleny, Jeff. “G.O.P. Captures House, but Not Senate.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 02 Nov. 2010. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.