By now you’ve probably seen the headlines: Joe Biden in 1992: No nominations to the Supreme Court in an election year. And, of course, Republicans are pouncing on that one to justify their plan to not consider President Obama’s nomination to fill the current vacancy.
But this is one of those situations where context matters. First of all, when Biden gave the speech there were no openings on the Supreme Court. As Chair of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee at the time, his 90 minute speech was focused on the politicization of the nomination process that has been marred by the Clarence Thomas hearings and George HW Bush’s refusal to consult with the Senate in selecting a nominee.
Igor Volsky pulled a different clip from the speech in which Biden says the following:
“I believe that so long as the public continues to split its confidence between the branches, compromise is the responsible course both for the White House and for the Senate,” he said. “Therefore I stand by my position, Mr. President, if the President [George H.W. Bush] consults and cooperates with the Senate or moderates his selections absent consultation, then his nominees may enjoy my support as did Justices Kennedy and Souter.” Watch it:
VP Biden released a statement about the speech that included this:
Some critics say that one excerpt of my speech is evidence that I oppose filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year. This is not an accurate description of my views on the subject. Indeed, as I conclude in the same statement critics are pointing to today, urged the Senate and White House to work together to overcome partisan differences to ensure the Court functions as the Founding Fathers intended. That remains my position today.
That conclusion from Biden is exactly what President Obama is doing right now.
President Obama has begun to consult with key senators from both parties on nominating a successor to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the White House said Friday.
In the past 24 hours, Obama phoned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), press secretary Josh Earnest said. Both senators have said replacing Scalia should be left to the next president…
“He is committed to talking to Congress,” the spokesman added. “He reiterated his firm belief that the Senate has a constitutional obligation here as well.”
I realize that in this era of soundbites and linkbait, it’s not very likely that we’ll get a lot of context about a 90 minute speech the Vice President gave almost a quarter of a century ago following one of the most contentious Supreme Court nominations in modern history. Providing that context is certainly not in the interest of Republicans, nor does it fulfill the media’s desire to paint every issue with “both sides do it.” But for the reality-based among us, it’s a good idea to actually be informed.