The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
By Grace McNally, Staff Writer • June 13, 2024
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
By Grace McNally, Staff Writer • June 13, 2024
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

Advocating filling Supreme Court vacancy in Toomey’s best interest

U.S.+Senator+Pat+Toomey+%28R-PA%29%2C+seen+May+28%2C+2013+in+State+College%2C+Pennsylvania.+%7C+TNS
MCT
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), seen May 28, 2013 in State College, Pennsylvania. | TNS

In the face of a new Supreme Court nominee, some Republican senators can afford to be obstructionist. Others, however, are recognizing their precarious position.

Giving way to the constituent pressures of election year politics, GOP senators in typically Democratic states like Illinois and Maine are taking a second look at putting their support behind Mitch McConnell and Republican leadership in the Senate. Almost every Republican in the Senate has joined in pledging not to consider any Obama nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month.

If these GOP senators from other typically Democratic states are any indication, Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey has a simple decision to make. To ensure he keeps his seat in elections this November, Toomey needs to break with party leadership and support nomination hearings for an Obama Supreme Court nominee.

The similarities are many between Toomey and Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois seeking re-election this fall and one of the few GOP senators to come out in favor of holding precursory hearings for a Supreme Court nominee. Elected in 2010 to the Senate seat for Illinois previously held by President Obama, Kirk’s slim victory was partially associated with the supposed Tea Party “revolt” that took place that year.

Toomey’s victory the same year as part of the same movement was just as slim, coming with just 76,000 votes. What’s more, the electoral coalitions that got each into the Senate six years ago seem to have fallen apart.

According to a Public Polling Policy survey conducted in the wake of Justice Scalia’s death, Toomey holds a paltry 29 percent approval rating among Pennsylvania voters. Another PPP survey from early 2015 places Kirk’s approval at an alarmingly similar 28 percent and shows potential Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth holding a six-point lead in a head-on-head matchup with the senator.

Politico analyst Anna Palmer called Kirk “the most endangered Republican in the country” in a column last October. The senator certainly has a history of taking what are usually progressive positions on important issues in Washington, including voicing support for federal funding of Planned Parenthood and even calling socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders an “ally” on foreign policy.

But even though Toomey is generally considered much more of a conservative and might not stand to gain much by coming out in favor of Planned Parenthood or Bernie Sanders, the issue of a replacement for Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court is another matter altogether.

The same PPP survey that showed dismal approval numbers for Toomey asked voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio for their take on the Supreme Court issue. As a whole, Pennsylvania voters responded 57 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed to filling the highest court’s vacancy this year. Among Pennsylvanians registered as Independents, a full 60 percent supported the Senate taking action on the issue.

Support for a nominee’s confirmation is clearly popular among a large portion of Pennsylvanians, so advocating consideration of an Obama nominated Supreme Court candidate seems like the easy choice for Toomey.

Unfortunately for his re-election hopes, however, that obvious choice has yet to be made.

In a February op-ed for PennLive, Pennsylvania Republican Party Chair Rob Gleason attributed his faith in a victory this fall for Toomey largely to a “messy and costly” Democratic primary between Gov. Tom Wolf’s former Chief of Staff Katie McGinty, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman and former U.S. Representative Joe Sestak.

Staking re-election hopes for your party’s candidate on the other party’s dysfunction rather than your own party’s record is a less-than-optimal strategy. But if Toomey willfully contradicts the expressed opinion of such a sizable majority of Pennsylvania voters on the Supreme Court, he risks canceling out his biggest advantage against a potential Democratic challenger.

GOP strategist Charlie Gerow called the Pennsylvania Republican’s Senate seat a “must-win for Democrats if they are to recapture control of the Senate” in a January column for PennLive. With the national Democratic party focusing on picking up seats in the chamber wherever it can this fall, there’s no need for Republican incumbents like Toomey to pave their way by supporting unpopular positions like refusing to acknowledge a Supreme Court nominee.

Sen. Kirk’s precarious electoral position in Illinois prompted him to take an apparently principled position on an Obama Supreme Court nominee. In a Feb. 22, opinions piece for the Chicago Sun-Times, he discussed his “duty as a senator to either vote in support or opposition to that nominee following a fair and thorough hearing.”

Toomey doesn’t need to go quite as far as Kirk did and suggest a vote on a presidential nominee for the highest court. The senator can avoid damage simply by distancing himself from the absolutist party line and speaking in favor merely of holding hearings for a nominee.

If he doesn’t, he might not be in the Senate next year to cast a vote at all.

 

Henry primarily writes on government and domestic policy for The Pitt News.

Write Henry at [email protected].