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National Issues

Give the people a voice on Supreme Court nominee

Immediately after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, Senate Republicans promised they would not hold hearings to review President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination. They reaffirmed that promise when Merrick Garland received his nomination.

Now, 10 weeks later, no Senate hearings have been held.

The interesting thing about Garland is that nobody knows how to label him. Labels like strong liberal, judicial moderate and consensus builder have been used by Republicans and Democrats to describe the 63-year-old judge.

No one seems to know how to label him in part because his decisions have spanned the political spectrum. The National Rifle Association announced its opposition to Garland, due partly to his favoring a rehearing of the 2007 decision to invalidate D.C.’s handgun ban. Conservatives also say Garland’s appointment would be dangerous to First Amendment rights, as he favors stringent campaign finance restrictions.

On the other hand, Garland sided with the Bush administration in a 2003 case regarding Guantanamo Bay conditions. He is known to have an especially conservative stance on criminal justice issues, even more so than some of Scalia’s views.

On hot-topic issues such as abortion and the death penalty, Garland’s record is almost completely silent.

The conflicting record, as well as the conspicuous absences of rulings regarding topics that are likely to be addressed by the Supreme Court during the next year, make the hearing process even more critical. Senators have expressed confusion over Garland’s stance on certain issues, and a hearing would provide the opportunity for clarity. Conservatives might even like what they hear. If they don’t, then each senator still has every right to vote “no.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not hold a Senate hearing to review Garland because the American people should have a “voice” in the appointment. Other Republicans have echoed that sentiment. This is a fallacy.

The American people did have a voice when they elected President Obama; that seems pretty obvious. One-third of all U.S. presidents have appointed a Supreme Court justice in an election year.

Second, Senate hearings give the American people a voice, not take it away! Each representative, elected by the people, gets to vote yes or no on the nominee. In that case, people from every state get a voice in the process through their representative, not just those who elected McConnell.

To not hold the hearing creates a conflict between performing the Senate’s Constitutional duty and trying to keep the Supreme Court leaning in one direction. This conflict is eliminated by simply holding a hearing. If McConnell is right that 52 senators will vote against Garland’s appointment, then holding a hearing will achieve both goals.

If he loses faith in that number, as more and more Republicans are beginning to speak out against McConnell’s decision not to hold hearings, then he faces a judgment call: which is more important, performing your Constitutional duties to give a voice to the people in this critical decision or to pursue a minority agenda of powerful Republican senators? I think it’s pretty clear what he’s decided.

Chloe Warnberg, from Dallas, Texas, is a senior studying public policy at Duke.


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