News & Politics

Robert Reich: Fix the Supreme Court

Start by telling your senators to do their job.

Photo Credit: Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States/Wikimedia Commons

The Constitution of the United States is clear: Article II Section 2 says the President “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint … judges to the Supreme Court.”

It doesn’t say the President can’t appoint in the final year of his term of office. In fact, a third of all U.S. presidents have appointed a Supreme Court justice in an election year. Yet many Republicans argue that no appointment can be made in the election year.

And the Constitution doesn’t give the Senate leader the right to delay and obstruct the rest of the Senate fro voting on a President’s nominee. Yet this is what the current Republican leadership argues.

In refusing to vote or even hold a hearing on the President’s nominee to the Supreme Court, the GOP is abdicating its constitutional responsibility. It’s not doing its job.

Senate Republicans are trying to justify their refusal by referring to a comment Joe Biden made when he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1992, urging then-President Bush to hold off on nominating a Supreme Court justice until after the election. But Biden was speaking hypothetically – there was no nominee before the Senate at that time – and he concluded by saying that if the President were to nominate someone he was sure the Senate and the President could come to an agreement. 

This fight has huge implications. A new Supreme Court justice might be able to reverse “Citizens United” and remove the poison of big money from our democracy. It might reverse “Shelby v. Holder,” and resurrect the Voting Rights Act.

And think of the cases coming up – on retaining a woman’s right to choose, on the rights of teachers and other public employees to unionize, on the President’s authority to fight climate change, and the rights of countless Americans with little or no power in a system where more and more power is going to the top. That’s the traditional role of the Supreme Court – to protect the powerless from the powerful.

Which is exactly why the Republicans don’t want to fulfill their constitutional responsibility and allow a vote on the President’s nominee.

So what can you do? There’s only one response – the same response you made when Republicans shut down the government because they didn’t get their way over the debt ceiling: You let them know they’ll be held accountable.

Public pressure is the only way to get GOP senators to release their choke hold on the Supreme Court. Public pressure is up to you. Call your senators now, and tell them you want them to do their job. 

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
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