Nelson: Politics put U.S. Supreme Court precedent in peril

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nelson-jennifer-editorIf you voted for President Barack Obama in 2012, sorry, but your vote no longer counts.

That’s effectively what the Republican members of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary said in a Feb. 23 letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“As we mourn the tragic loss of Justice Antonin Scalia, and celebrate his life’s work, the American people are presented with an exceedingly rare opportunity to decide, in a very real and concrete way, the direction the Court will take over the next generation. We believe The People should have this opportunity,” the letter says.

“The People” did have this opportunity, eight years ago when nearly 53 percent of voters elected Obama, and four years later when 51 percent of voters re-elected him. But we know that “The People” these senators refer to are “The People” who look and think like them.

What will these Republican senators do if a Democrat wins the presidential election (or even Donald Trump)? “The People” will have spoken, but will the senators continue to try to stonewall a nominee because it wasn’t “their people?”

The senators, who say they will not hold any hearings on Obama justice nominees, write that they intend to exercise the constitutional power granted to the Senate under Article II, Section 2 to the U.S. Constitution to “ensure the American people are not deprived of the opportunity to engage in a full and robust debate over the type of jurist they wish to decide some of the most critical issues of our time.”

Let’s be honest here; the vast majority Americans don’t debate about Supreme Court justices. In fact, a 2012 survey found that only 34 percent of Americans could name at least one member of the court. A poll released in January 2016 showed that nearly 10 percent of college graduates believed TV’s “Judge Judy” Judith Sheindlin is on the Supreme Court.

Obama has said he intends to nominate someone in the weeks ahead. He met with McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley on March 1, but it appears it didn’t change the Republicans’ minds. The letter ends with, “Because our decision is based on constitutional principle and born of a necessity to protect the will of the American people, this Committee will not hold any hearings on any Supreme Court nominee until after our next President is sworn in on January 20, 2017.”

To the senators who signed this letter, and any other member of Congress standing in the way of the appointment of a new member of the Supreme Court: Stop the political grandstanding. When Obama nominates someone, hold a hearing. Vet the candidate. Perhaps that person would make a good justice, but isn’t the right political party for you. The American people would much rather you do your job, hold the hearing and then vote against the person instead of refusing to even consider serving your constituents.

The American people deserve a court that can make precedent on important issues instead of leaving the matters to be decided another day.•

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