Obstructing Justice

The Senate must confirm a new Supreme Court Justice.

The Senate Must Confirm A New Supreme Court Justice

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s nearly three decades on the Supreme Court left an indelible mark on the Court and his vacancy leaves a major hole in our judicial branch. His unexpected and tragic death leaves only eight justices to decide some of the most important cases in decades. And as much as there was at stake with nine justices on the bench, there is even more at stake with only eight. The current Supreme Court term could be one of the most consequential terms in decades, with cases affecting women’s health, immigration, workers’ rights, climate change, and more.

Scalia’s vacancy means the court is evenly divided ideologically with four conservative and four liberal justices. That means that in many cases the court’s decision could be split 4-4, which would uphold the lower court decisions by default and would not set Supreme Court precedent. It is important to note that votes that the justices have previously cast in private are not final until the rulings are made public.

Despite the high stakes of this Supreme Court’s term, in an incredible show of obstruction, Senate Republicans have already vowed not to confirm a nominee from President Obama. Soon after news of Scalia’s death broke Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.” Sen. McConnell’s statement has quickly become consensus among Republicans, with many congressmen and GOP Presidential candidates making similar arguments.

Intentionally obstructing the nomination process, as Congressional Republicans are suggesting, threatens the stability of the law and the integrity of the Court. Not to mention the fact that, in electing President Obama for a second term, the American people have, in fact, already had a say in the nomination process. A central question after Republicans took control of the Senate was whether or not the party would be able to actually govern. This latest promise to block a Supreme Court nominee can now be added to the long list of examples—including the government shutdown and obstruction of other judicial nominees—proving that congressional Republicans are willing to go to great lengths to achieve their political goals.

An unexpected Supreme Court vacancy in an election year is unusual. But the Senate has never rejected its constitutional duty to hear and vote on a President’s nominee, even when the vacancy occurred during a presidential election year. In fact 15 percent of all Supreme Court justices were confirmed during an election year. If Senate Republicans are successful in blocking a nominee until the next presidency, that would mark the first vacancy in history spanning two Supreme Court terms. Lengthy delays in confirmation for Supreme Court Justices is also unprecedented: Since 1980, every person appointed to the Court was confirmed in less than 100 days.

BOTTOM LINE: The importance of the cases in front of the Supreme Court this term underscores the fact that the American people deserve a swift and orderly confirmation process. Senate Republicans are, rhetorically, some of the most ardent defenders of our constitution. The death of Justice Scalia gives them an opportunity to fulfill their constitutional duty by confirming our next Supreme Court Justice. It’s an opportunity they should take.

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