U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is likely to mix it up in the coming political brawl in Washington around replacing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and not just because her own name has again surfaced as a potential high court nominee.
Minnesota’s Klobuchar and her Democratic colleague, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which vets Supreme Court appointees. Scalia’s death on Saturday immediately opened a political divide between Democrats and Republicans about who should get to pick his successor: President Obama or the next president.
Obama said late Saturday that he intends to try to fill the vacancy “in due time.” It is already shaping up to be an epic battle as Obama has been handed the rare chance to swing the ideological balance of the court, where Scalia served as one of the most reliably conservative voices in the 5-4 majority.
As Republicans who control the U.S. Senate vow to block Obama, the president will look for judiciary committee allies like Klobuchar and Franken. But Klobuchar, an attorney and a former elected prosecutor, may first be considered as a prospect.
“I think there’s a bunch of reasons she makes sense,” said Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress and U.S. politics at Washington’s American Enterprise Institute, who was touting Klobuchar’s case on Twitter over the weekend. “I think there’s a substantive argument for her, and a political argument for her.”
Reached Sunday, Klobuchar declined to comment on the speculation. Her office released a statement on Scalia’s passing: “My condolences and prayers are with the Scalia family and his friends and colleagues on the Supreme Court.”
As speculation mounted Sunday about who Obama would nominate, Klobuchar’s name popped up on multiple national media lists of feasible prospects. That’s no guarantee she’s on the actual shortlist: In recent decades, appointments have invariably gone to federal judges, and on Sunday, D.C. Circuit Court Judge Sri Srinivasan emerged as something of an early favorite among influential Democrats.
Klobuchar, a 55-year-old University of Chicago Law School graduate, has no experience on the bench. But she served two terms as elected Hennepin County prosecutor, and her judiciary committee work has put her close to federal legal concerns — and to committee colleagues who will be deep in the fray of the Scalia succession.
Klobuchar’s husband, John Bessler, is a law professor at the University of Baltimore.
Ornstein said by choosing a U.S. senator, Obama could make it a harder for Senate Republicans to block a trusted colleague for the entirety of 2016. And he suggested it might be a good time to reverse the recent presidential trend of only picking judges.
“There was a long tradition of selecting people who had been in public life, gone through elections and served in legislatures or executive office,” Ornstein said.
Earl Warren, one of the 20th century’s most consequential chief justices, had served as governor of California. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman justice, was a state Senate majority leader in Arizona. Former President William Howard Taft ascended to chief justice after his presidency.
But Heidi Kitrosser, a University of Minnesota Law School professor, said the polarization of U.S. politics and the likely rancor over Scalia’s replacement would probably make it even more risky for Obama to choose a political ally.
“I’d be surprised if she were the nominee, because I think her involvement in Democratic Party politics would play too easily into Republicans who would say, ‘See, he picked a politician,’ ” Kitrosser said.
Kitrosser said she believes presidents moved toward selecting federal judges over politicians because it is easier to predict how they will rule on matters before the court based on their prior rulings. Two other Democratic senators, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Cory Booker of New Jersey, have also been mentioned as potential picks from the Senate.
Ultimately, it might not much matter who Obama picks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Saturday that the Senate should not confirm a replacement for Scalia until the next president is in office. Two Republican senators running for president, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, said the same.
Democratic senators are certain to push back just as hard, and the clash will set the table for this year’s battle for control of the Senate. Franken and Klobuchar will be in the middle of it, whether she is the nominee or not.
Franken was not available for an interview Sunday. In a Facebook post on Sunday morning, he praised Scalia as a “dedicated public servant” and said Republicans should not deny Obama his authority to appoint a successor.
“In 2012, the American people decisively elected President Obama to serve a second four-year term,” Franken wrote. “Because a new president will take office in 11 months is not a sound reason for leaving a vacancy on the Supreme Court.”