Select language:

Senators Put Politics Above People in Obstructing Supreme Court Nominee

In an unprecedented move, Republican senators move further towards the extremist voices within their party by refusing to even consider any nominee from President Obama for the vacant Supreme Court seat.

Supreme court building
Republican senators are moving further towards the extremist voices within their party by refusing to even consider any nominee from President Obama for the vacant Supreme Court seat. (Willard/iStock)

This page was published 8 years ago. Find the latest on Earthjustice’s work.

Super Tuesday marks a shift of our national attention to what is for most people the most important political battle, the election of a new president. As our attention shifts, we must not lose track of the most critical presidential battle remaining for our current President—nominating a Supreme Court justice.

The president has a clear right and responsibility under Article 2 of the Constitution to name a qualified nominee to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat. The U.S. Senate has a clear right and responsibility to offer its advice and consent to that nomination.

In every Supreme Court vacancy in the history of our Republic, performing the “advice and consent” role has meant giving genuine consideration to a nominee; evaluating the person’s credentials and qualifications, judicial temperament and experience; and deciding whether the individual nominee should be approved.

This has been the case even when a vacancy has occurred during a presidential election year.

But apparently not this time. This time Senate Republicans are refusing to do their job. They stand to make American history by becoming the first Senate majority to put playing politics above doing their job by refusing to consider any nominee from the president, no matter how qualified the candidate may be.

Within an hour of news of Scalia’s death becoming public, Senate President Mitch McConnell released a statement declaring that Republicans would not even consider a nominee from President Obama, insisting that this vacancy should be filled by the next president—even though nearly 11 full months remain in Obama’s second term. Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee followed with a letter saying they would not hold hearings to consider an Obama nominee—any Obama nominee.

The party in control of the Senate has never before abdicated its constitutional responsibility in such a fashion. It is absolutely and completely unprecedented.

And it is wrong.

As the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law organization, Earthjustice knows the value of our legal system and judicial nominations. We’ve represented community groups fighting for their right to breathe clean air, to drink clean water and to enjoy wild places and wildlife. We’ve seen firsthand how these rights can often come down to a single vote from one of the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Senate should not play political games with an institution as vital and important as the U.S. Supreme Court. Nowhere does the Constitution say a duly elected president loses the right to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in the last year of his term.

The New York Times recently highlighted how this issue of unprecedented obstructionism from Republicans is bigger than the Supreme Court when it noted that President Obama has “managed only one appointment” to the regional courts of appeal since Republicans assumed majority in Jan 2015—o ne! The Times further stated that Republican senators are also responding to ideological calls by blocking appointments for appeals court judges.

Our justice system is responsible for some of the most landmark changes of our time. Honorable men and women appointed to judicial positions have presided over decisions that supported a woman’s right to choose, equality for marriage and, in our case, essential interpretations of the Clean Air Act for increased public health and environmental protections.

Republicans are following the lead of the most extreme voices in their party, putting politics ahead of their constitutional duty.

Senators are elected to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities. And their responsibility in this situation could not be more clear: They should, in good faith, evaluate the nominee sent them by the president and decide whether that person has the qualifications and temperament necessary to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

And then they should allow for a fair hearing—like every other Senate in our history.

Elections have consequences. The election in November 2016 will have its consequences, but right now, our current president is the one vested with the authority and the constitutional responsibility to submit a qualified nominee for the Supreme Court.

President Obama will do his job. Republican senators must do theirs.

Trip Van Noppen served as Earthjustice’s president from 2008 until he retired in 2018. A North Carolina native, Trip said of his experience: “Serving as the steward of Earthjustice for the last decade has been the greatest honor of my life.”

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.