Days after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly in Texas, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has fused two of the most controversial issues of the 2016 campaign — the debate over who should choose Scalia’s successor, and race.
Clinton’s remarks came at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, where she delivered what was billed by her campaign as a major speech on “systemic racism.”
“The Republicans say they’ll reject anyone President Obama nominates no matter how qualified,” Clinton said. “Some are even saying he doesn’t have the right to nominate anyone, as if somehow he’s not the real president.”
Indeed, Republican candidates have frowned on the prospect that Obama would nominate Scalia’s replacement to a divided court less than a year before the end of his administration — though, as the president pointed out Tuesday, the Constitution does not specify such a time limit. This wasn’t just election year elbow-throwing, Clinton said. This was about race.
“You know that’s in keeping what we heard all along, isn’t it?” she continued. “Many Republicans talk in coded racial language about takers and losers. They demonize President Obama and encourage the ugliest impulses of the paranoid fringe. This kind of hatred and bigotry has no place in our politics or our country.”
Clinton’s comments came as she battled Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for African American votes that are crucial in the primaries to come. At the speech in Harlem, where she stood onstage with New York Rep. Charles Rangel (D), she spoke of the water crisis in Flint, Mich. — a city that’s more than 50 percent African American in a state that’s less than 15 percent African American — a day after Sanders made a visit.
“There are many Flints across our country,” she said. “Places where people of color and the poor have been left out and left behind.”
Clinton said that while Democrats — that is, Sanders — had focused on reining in Wall Street this primary season, “Flint reminds us that there is a lot more going in our country that we should be concerned about.”
“It’s not enough for your economic plan to be ‘break up the banks,'” she said. She added: “America’s long struggle with race is far from finished. For many white Americans, it’s tempting to believe that bigotry is largely behind us. That would leave us with a lot less work, wouldn’t it?”
Clinton then invoked three civil rights legends — one, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who has endorsed her and questioned Sanders’s civil rights record. (“I never saw him. I never met him,” Lewis said last week of Sanders’s civil rights work — before walking back the remark.)
“But more than half a century after Rosa Parks sat,” Clinton said, “and Dr. King marched, and John Lewis bled, race still plays a significant role in who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind.”
In comments on Twitter before the address, Clinton also made clear how crucial cases about immigration and voting rights currently before the Supreme Court are for people of color. “Right now, the fundamental principle of ‘one person, one vote’ is at stake,” she wrote late Monday.
4 Right now, the fundamental principle of "one person, one vote” is at stake in a case before the Supreme Court. -H
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 16, 2016
And Clinton’s comments come as Obama — who is definitely not going to pass up the chance to nominate a Supreme Court justice — weighs the tricky calculus of whom to put forward. Should he nominate D.C. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan, a moderate of Indian descent? What about Attorney General Loretta Lynch who, if confirmed, would become the first African American female justice? That might play well with the same black voters Clinton is trying to woo as she repeatedly invokes Obama’s legacy in debates and on the stump.
“I think the administration would relish the prospect of Republicans either refusing to give Lynch a vote or seeming to treat her unfairly in the confirmation process,” Supreme Court expert Tom Goldstein wrote at ScotusBlog. “Either eventuality would motivate both black and women voters.”
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