It’s been exactly 287 days since the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, told the American public “fuck you.”
That was the day they decided, following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, that they no longer gave a damn about what the voters want. They no longer work for their constituents; they work for themselves and would rather act like a group of childish seventh graders.
In 2012, when we re-elected President Barack Obama to a second term, we elected him with the expectation that he would carry out his responsibilities as President, as laid out in Article II of the U.S. Constitution. Among those countless responsibilities is Section 2, that says:
“He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.”
The bold type is my added emphasis.
This clause in the Constitution is actually twofold – it also places the responsibility of advising, consulting and eventually affirming the nominations made by the President on the Senate. The Committee on the Judiciary is the group now meant to do the advising and consulting part of this.
Since Justice Scalia passed earlier this year, the Judiciary Committee, led by majority Republicans, has flat-out refused to do its job. Here’s Grassley’s full statement from March 16, 2016:
“When they structured our nation, the founders placed trust in three separate but equal branches of government. Co-equal authorities are throughout the Constitution, including Article II, Section 2, where the power to nominate an individual to the Supreme Court is granted to the President and authority is given to the Senate to provide advice and consent. Nowhere in the Constitution does it describe how the Senate should either provide its consent or withhold its consent.
“Today the President has exercised his constitutional authority. 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, with millions of votes having been cast in highly charged contests. As Vice President Biden previously said, it’s a political cauldron to avoid. Judge Bork learned even after being unanimously confirmed for a circuit court judgeship, the confirmation process for the Supreme Court is unlike any other.
“It’s also important to remember the type of nominee President Obama said he’s seeking. He says his nominee will arrive at ‘just decisions and fair outcomes’ based on the application of ‘life experience’ to the ‘rapidly changing times.’ The so-called empathy standard is not an appropriate basis for selecting a Supreme Court nominee.
“A lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics. The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice. Do we want a court that interprets the law, or do we want a court that acts as an unelected super legislature? This year is a tremendous opportunity for our country to have a sincere and honest debate about the role of the Supreme Court in our constitutional system of government.”
Again, the bolding is my added emphasis.
The first thing that sets off my B.S. meter is the point that the Constitution doesn’t actually lay out exactly how the Senate should “either provide its consent or withhold its consent.” That’s completely true. It’s also completely true that the Constitution also didn’t specify the number of justices on the bench (so, technically, even just having only one SCOTUS judge is Constitutional) and that it can function as vaguely intended to with fewer than the nine we’re all used to.
However, the Judiciary Act of 1869 created the standard precedent of nine justices on the Supreme Court that we’ve all known our entire lives. I read an article a month or two ago, that I now can’t locate, that goes into the history of the varying sizes of the Supreme Court throughout the years and why it’s been at nine for more than a century. If I happen to find it again, I’ll update this post with a link.
Basically, any claim by anyone that it’s totally normal and OK that the Senate doesn’t approve another justice since SCOTUS doesn’t have to have nine is really just a straw man argument based on a fact that was completely ignored until recent months, when it became a convenient excuse.
The second vile piece of B.S. I find is when Grassley claims the Senate is “fulfilling its constitutional role” by “withholding support for the nomination during a presidential election year.” I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t usually consider part of a job description “fulfilled” when it hasn’t even been attempted. It’s not the Senate nor the committee’s job to “support a nomination” for the empty SCOTUS seat. It’s the Senate Judiciary Committee’s job to interview the nominee and then the Senate’s to decide whether to approve the nominee.
Chuck Grassley and the Senate have no place in deciding whether or not they support the President of the United States fulfilling a responsibility handed to him by the U.S. Constitution – an action, a verb. Chuck’s getting this confused with his place in deciding whether to support the justice nominee – a person, a noun.
The third and fourth pieces of this total trash statement are possibly the most important. It’s the very definition of irony that one of the most obstructive Senates in U.S. history doesn’t want the SCOTUS nomination “to get bogged down in politics.” And it’s downright insulting to tell me “The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice” while taking my voice away. On Nov. 6, 2012, I voted for Barack Obama for the Presidency, fully aware and understanding of what his job responsibilities entail – including nominating SCOTUS justices when there’s a vacancy.
While much of my anger and frustrations (and those of so many other Americans) are mostly directed toward Grassley and the other obstructive Republicans, the Democrats on the committee are not completely innocent, either. They could have been more vocal and active in trying to do the right thing for American democracy.
To be clear, I am not compelling the Senate to approve President Obama’s nomination for Supreme Court justice – that’s the members’ decision to make after holding a hearing and interviewing the nominee. I am simply compelling them to fulfill their pretty simple job description by holding the hearing, asking a few (or a lot of) questions and then make a decision on whether to approve the nominee.
Here, in the real world, when one fails to fulfill their agreed upon job duties, they either face termination or sacrifice salary. Heck, even our President-Elect has admitted he’s refused to pay when a job hasn’t been done “satisfactory.”
A U.S. Senator’s annual salary is $174,000. I believe that Sen. Grassley, the rest of the Judiciary Committee and the entire Senate (Republicans and Democrats; anyone who has been silent and complicit) need to return that unearned salary back to the American taxpayers who pay that salary – all $136,816.44 as of today’s date, adding another $476.71 per day until the job requirements are met.
After that, they owe us all an apology.