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    Praying for Nino, and Planning for What's Next

    This morning in church I prayed for the soul of Antonin Scalia, and asked for him to receive God's mercy. I disagreed with him sharply during his lifetime, and sometimes judged him harshly, which made prayer all the more incumbent on me. Some of my friends have argued with me about this on social media, taking it as some sign of approval or absolution. Let me be very clear: I believe that Scalia is very much in need of mercy. (I have a beloved aunt, a former Sister of St. Joseph, who passed away a few years ago, and I almost never pray for her, because I strongly doubt God needs me to vouch for her.) I believe, I fear, that Scalia has done things that require God's forgiveness.

    But on the other hand, Scalia was a human being with a moral self, capable of both good and evil, and I need to recognize his humanity. Nor is it for me to judge his soul. Scalia was subject to some of the temptations -- a sharp tongue, a weakness for partisan conflict, pride in his intellectual abilities -- that I have wrestled with for many years. And my chief grievance against Justice Scalia in the exercise of his office was that he sometimes failed to respect others' humanity as fully as he ought, that he did not render the compassion or mercy that others were owed. But if those were his failings, they will not be mended by aping him. Dehumanizing Nino Scalia and hardening our hearts against him would mean taking on the worst of his failings and perpetuating them.

    I was appalled to see people cheering Scalia's death on the internet. I was never going to be sorry the day he left the Court, but I can't rejoice in the way he left it. I was ashamed of many of my fellow liberals. But I was just as appalled to see conservatives playing partisan games within an hour of the sad news.

    I can't imagine a sorrier monument to Scalia's "originalist" approach than to openly defy the plain reading of the Constitution. A President of the United States with 11 months left in his term is President of the United States. Apparently, even those basic facts are unacceptable to the current Republican Party, so we're going to spend the rest of the election year in the Thunderdome.

    But I think the Republicans, in their current disarray, just Thunderdomed themselves. One result of McConnell and Cruz's open obstructionism is that the Senate elections just got nationalized. Every Republican senator running for election in a swing state can now be painted as an obstructionist for not giving the President's nominee an up-or-down vote. Just choosing to find fault with a particular nominee, the safe and obvious strategy, has been taken off the table because McConnell gave the game away by announcing that Obama had no right to nominate anyone.

    (There's a special circle of political hell for Republican senators who are running for re-election in swing states but who haven't had their primary yet, which is to say all of the swing-state Republicans but Kelly Ayotte. Those senators can be attacked on the right unless they commit to NOT approving ANY nominee, and then attacked in the general for being partisan hacks. Mitch McConnell, political genius, just threw his own senators into that circle of hell.)

    Meanwhile, Obama is free to nominate a potential justice he genuinely wants to see on the court. If his pick gets nominated, he wins. If the Republicans block his nominee (or a series of his nominees; he has time to nominate at least three), he can make the Republicans look like the hacks they are. Meanwhile, the stalemated Court won't be able to make any precedent without at least one of the liberal judges agreeing. (The sole exception is the odious Fisher v. Texas case, where the conservatives might overturn affirmative action in college admissions of a 4-3 vote because Justice Kagan has recused herself. Chief Justice Roberts has to ask himself if he's willing to do that, and possibly damage the Court's reputation, with only four votes.)

    The biggest surprise in this political chaos is that we're surprised. It's been a long time since a Supreme Court Justice passed away in office. And in many ways, our political elite has begun to presume upon modern medicine and extreme longevity. Antonin Scalia was clearly planning to hang on into his eighties. We now expect Supreme Court Justices to hang on into their eighties if they choose, as if it were simply a matter of choice. When the death of a 79-year-old comes as such a drastic surprise, we all need to recalibrate our response to mortality.



    Astonishing, Doc. Thanks.

    Much food for thought here but I'll take on the connection to McConnell. Whereas Scalia obstructed much of the progressive cause, he could never in my mind have been called a non-contributor, so one has to conclude that he was an accomplished obstructionist---it's at least a legacy commanding some respect.

    He seemed to me a person who could walk into a room and within 10 minutes half the men would want to punch him out and the other half would think he was funny as hell. I have had friends like that, and usually I was entertained by them, mainly because they were quick and smart. McConnell seems like a different breed of man,and,obstructionist. I would call him "the walking dead obstructionist."

    Much of what we have been discussing here has been how do the Progressives change minds and get things done and as we have gone along, Sanders approach seems more ungrounded to me and that the reason why is that it's the other party which needs to change.

    McConnell should ask himself...where has the obstruction gotten us? He has a chance to become a statesman and not just a selfish pol who will be forgotten the day after he dies.

    Sorry, I just don't get it.  Why should anyone's prayer for another person's mercy influence God?  Scalia had 79 years of life and nothing any person can say or do should "change God's mind" about him.  

    Thank you you for such a thoughtful essay on the spectacle we have coming our way.  But regardless of the politics of this, it seems to me that if any objectivity entered into this it is obvious that the President who is currently in office is the one who should make this nomination.  

    Firstly it is (of course) in the Constitution.  But beyond that, a sitting President will already have a vetted short list of potential Supreme Court appointees as well as staff in place to move the process forward.  A newly installed President has a very steep learning curve, and unknown immediate challenges to deal with.  She/he also has hundreds of appointments to make, and all of those people have their own learning curves as well.  Who can argue without being disingenuous that the above is not true?

    As Ramona has said elsewhere, the GOP simply believes that President Obama never really was the President...not just that he didn't deserve it; they really believe his Presidency is NULL.  Astonishing how much they got away with.  I read somewhere today that Republicans evidently think that a black President only gets to serve 3/5 of a term!  I don't think they even gave him that much.

    And we've just run into the Catholic and Protestant divide. Catholicism has a very long, very deep tradition of intecessory prayer: prayer for others' souls. The Protestant Reformation largely does away with that, and many Protestant denominations have no room for it at all.

    My religious upbringing is Catholic. And since Justice Scalia was also Roman Catholic, it made sense for me to speak in that idiom. (I would be less comfortably publicly declaring that I was praying for the soul of someone who didn't believe in that, even if I felt very strongly about them.)

    I don't want to wade much further into these religious waters, or even particularly to defend my own tradition's approach. I will say that one of the things that I take away from my specific denomination's teaching about the afterlife is that people don't sort cleanly into the saved and the damned; there's a middle ground in between, where some, and in my own thinking probably most, of us fall.

    Thanks for the reply.  I guess it is just a nice thing to do for the departed, and I admire you for being able to include him in your prayers.  

    Yes. It may simply be a nice thing. And perhaps it only benefits me, by helping me to let go of anger toward the deceased. But even so, I would recommend that.

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