U.S. Senator Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat, took to the Senate floor this week to blast U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans for trying to block President Barack Obama from appointing a replacement for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who recently died in Texas. It is a factual argument every thinking American should see.
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Read this partial text of what he said here –
It is our duty to move forward. We must fulfill our constitutional obligation to ensure that the highest court in the land has a full complement of justices.
Unfortunately, it would seem that some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle do not agree—and they wasted no time in making known their objections. Less than an hour after news of Justice Scalia’s death became public, the Majority Leader announced that the Senate would not take up the business of considering a replacement until after the presidential election. Quote, “[t]he American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” he said.
The only problem with the Majority Leader’s reasoning, M. PRESIDENT, is that the American people have spoken. Twice. President Barack Obama was elected and reelected by a solid majority of the American people who correctly understood that elections have consequences, not the least of which is that when a vacancy occurs, the President of United States has the constitutional responsibility to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court. The Constitution does not set a time limit on the President’s ability to fulfill this duty. Nor, by my reading, does the Constitution set a date after which the President is no longer able to fulfill his duties as Commander in Chief, or to exercise his authority to, say, grant pardons or make treaties. It merely states that the President shall hold office for a term of four years. And by my count, there are in the neighborhood of 11 months left.
If we were to truly subscribe to the Majority Leader’s logic and extend it to the legislative branch, it would yield an absurd result. Senators would become ineffective in the last year of their term. The 28 senators who are now in the midst of their reelection campaigns and the 6 senators who are stepping down should be precluded from casting votes in committee or on the Senate floor. Ten committee chairs and 19 subcommittee chairs should pass the gavel to a colleague who is not currently running for reelection or preparing for retirement. Bill introduction, and indeed the cosponsorship of bills, should be limited to those senators who are not yet serving in the sixth year of their terms. If the Majority Leader sincerely believes that the only way to ensure that the voice of the American people is heard is to lop off the last year of an elected official’s term, I trust he will make these changes.
But I suspect he does not. Rather, it seems to me that the Majority Leader believes that the term of just one elected official in particular should be cut short. Which begs the question, M. PRESIDENT, just how short should it be cut? As I said, by my count, approximately 11 months remain in Barack Obama’s presidency. 11. Now, 11 months is a considerable amount of time. Sizable. It has heft, to be sure, but I wouldn’t call it vast. Then again, there’s a certain arbitrariness to settling on 11 months. After all, it’s just shy of a full year. Perhaps, in order to simplify matters, an entire year would be preferable. Or maybe just six months—half a year. It’s a difficult decision, M. PRESIDENT. If only the American people had a voice in selecting precisely how much time we should shave off the President’s term.
But M. PRESIDENT, suggesting that the Senate should refuse to consider a nominee during an election year stands as a cynical affront to our constitutional system—and it misrepresents our history. The Senate has a long tradition of working to confirm Supreme Court justices in election years. One need look no further than sitting Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Supreme Court nominee appointed by a Republican President and confirmed by a Democratic Senate in 1988, President Reagan’s last year in office. So when I hear one of my colleagues say that, quote “it’s been standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year,” I know that’s not true.
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.