President Obama finally unveiled his pick to fill the late Justice Anton Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court: Merrick Garland, a chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Garland is widely respected and considered a moderate—yet, of course, Republican senators refused to even contemplate giving him a hearing.
Proud to nominate Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. I ask Senators to meet their constitutional duty and give him a fair hearing.— President Obama (@POTUS) March 16, 2016
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell waited mere minutes to obstruct Obama’s nomination, immediately giving a speech on the Senate floor. He pretended to appear reasonable, stating, “It is a president’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent.”
This twists the Constitution’s intent to the extreme—the role of the Senate is to provide “advice and consent” after it properly holds a hearing and considers a Supreme Court justice nominee. McConnell and his fellow Republicans, as so-called “strict constitutionalists,” would have never considered abandoning their constitutional duties if we didn’t have a Democratic president (and specifically, President Obama).
McConnell continued to obstinately argue that “the people [should have] a voice in filling this vacancy,” which is true—but we already did. The American people used their electoral voices to reelect President Obama in 2012, and with more than 300 days left in his presidency, he still possesses complete authority to fill the vacancy.
McConnell cited the “Biden rule” as justification, which refers to when Vice President Joe Biden “said [in 1992 that] a hypothetical Supreme Court opening should not be filled during a presidential election year, and that it was acceptable for the court to only have eight justices temporarily.”
What Biden argued in 1992 does not apply today. As Salon points out, “Biden made an observation to the effect that if an outgoing president nominates someone before the summer of his last term in office, that person typically receives the Senate’s approval, but that if he or she is nominated during the summer, that person does not — meaning that McConnell even gets what could be called the ‘Biden Observation’ wrong.”
Other senators parroted McConnell’s meaningless rhetoric; despite confirming Garland to the appeals court in 1997, Sen. Pat Roberts said this time he would not even hold a hearing for the nominee. Sen. Chuck Grassley also released a statement, claiming, “A majority of the Senate has decided to fulfill its constitutional role of advice and consent by withholding support for the nomination during a presidential election year.”
Obama, for his part, has continued to fight for a hearing, even creating the Twitter handle @ScotusNom to inform the American people about Garland and put pressure on Republican senators to listen to their constituents (a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all support hearings for a nominee, according to a recent CNN/ORC poll).
The fight will continue, and it may ultimately be up to the American people to force the Senate to do its job.
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