For the sake of national unity, don't dig in on this Supreme Court nomination

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS)
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, Jan.19, 2022, in Washington. In a rebuff to former President Donald Trump, the Supreme Court is allowing the release of presidential documents sought by the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement announcement offers Republicans a real opportunity. No, not the opportunity to install yet another hard-right conservative on the bench. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell already can claim victory for the kinds of obstructionist and unfair manipulation that yielded the court’s current lopsided split favoring conservatives. Now is the moment for Republicans to make a move to save this badly divided nation from splitting even further.

Would it be asking too much for Senate Republicans to let President Joe Biden exercise the same prerogative granted for decades to his predecessors to appoint his choice to the high court? It would mean, just once, that McConnell & Co. stifle the penchant to seize every opportunity to deepen divisions and exploit every issue for maximum political gain.

More:Breyer’s Supreme Court pragmatism will be missed

More:Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to retire: sources

More:Toomey: 'No reason' to delay Ginsburg replacement on Supreme Court

At some point, even McConnell must recognize the damage these divisive tactics are inflicting on the nation. The growing trend toward tribalism is fomenting chaos and violence. At times over the past year, America has looked more like a nation barreling toward civil war than a democracy founded on principles of national unity and political compromise.

Biden didn’t help heal those wounds with his Jan. 11 speech in Atlanta, accusing Republicans of instituting “Jim Crow 2.0” with their opposition to two voting rights bills. But Biden was correct in declaring that the “battle for the soul of America is not over.” The soul of America is rooted in its ability to overcome the most bitter of political disputes and find ways to unite for the sake of the nation’s survival.

On that front, both sides can offer gestures aimed at building bridges. McConnell has the power to block Biden’s Supreme Court nominee by telling his caucus to put up a united front of stubborn opposition, while using backroom negotiations to pull senators like Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema onto his side. But why do it? He already has shaped the court balance to his liking, in large part by employing odious tactics to block Democrats from their rightful court appointments.

The nation could use a reminder of how it was not so long ago. Consider that Republicans joined Democrats in approving liberal Justices Elena Kagan in 2010 by a 63-37 majority and Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 by a 68-31 majority. Democrats joined Republicans to affirm conservative Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005 by a lopsided 78-22 majority.

Continued obstruction can only serve to divide the nation further, deepen resentments and make it that much harder for Democrats to meet the GOP halfway in the future. Retiring Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, fresh from receiving his Henry Givens Jr. Legacy Award for his “bipartisan spirit,” has nothing to lose by demonstrating that spirit and convincing fellow Senate leaders to extend a hand to the other side and stop driving Americans further toward the political extremes.