Recently, Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party and the reaction by some GOP establishment leaders was not about the election but about the Supreme Court. Almost immediately, some of the most conservative pundits and some Republican elected officials began calling on their Senate Republican brethren to bring up the nomination of Merrick Garland and confirm him without delay.
Why the reaction? Because some conservatives, like writers at the well-known blog RedState, may be worried about the prospect of losing the presidential election, it is also likely they are finally hearing the calls of voters across the country.
Judge Garland was nominated two months ago to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia. Despite being described as a moderate, consensus choice with a lengthy record of praise from Democrats and Republicans alike, Judge Garland, the chief judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, has seen his nomination obstructed by Senate Republicans.
The intransigence of the Senate GOP leadership in moving President Obama’s nominee’s confirmation forward is at odds with the American public. For weeks, polling has been solidly on the side of the Senate moving forward on Judge Garland’s nomination and this week is no different. A new poll from GBA Strategies and the Center for American Progress tested the strongest messages from supporters of moving the nomination forward against the most frequently used messages in opposition. In a head to head match, a whopping 69 percent of voters support Judge Garland receiving a hearing and vote on his nomination.
Across five states and nationally, voters view senators who obstruct the process more unfavorably at a much higher clip than those who have a more favorable view. At least 38 percent of voters in Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin say they would view their senator less favorably if they obstructed the nomination, while no more than 21 percent say they would view their senator more favorably for holding that position.
But maybe the biggest takeaway from the recent data: issues matter. When voters were asked about potential 4-4 splits on cases that affected issues they cared about — including civil rights, immigration and health care — they were significantly more likely to get involved in the nomination process than not.
During the Obama administration, the Supreme Court has ruled on monumental issues that affect millions of Americans. Underscoring the importance of our judicial branch, the court twice upheld the Affordable Care Act, twice ruled in favor of LGBT rights, and has upheld some civil rights protections. By contrast, it also gutted the Voting Rights Act, opened the floodgates for money to influence our nation’s politics, and began to chip away at workers’ rights. In short: the court has been undeniably consequential under Chief Justice John Roberts. And this recent term is equally high stakes as the court hears issues around immigration policy, workers’ and women’s rights, voting and democracy, and many more.
Sadly, under Republican chairman Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been one of the least productive in recent memory, moving lower court nominees through to confirmation at a glacial pace — only six have been confirmed by the Senate this year, while 82 current vacancies remain, with more to come. And the Supreme Court is not exempt from the GOP’s foot-dragging.
The months of Senate GOP work-stoppage on the nomination isn’t just failing to win over support, they are simply losing the argument over whether to move forward in the confirmation process. And the result of their inaction is already taking a toll that will worsen.
The court’s pace has slowed, as it is hearing fewer cases. There is a threat of split decisions that threaten to create a chaotic legal system across the country, and continuing uncertainty over when the court will ever be at full strength again tarnishes the public’s confidence in the vitality and functionality of the highest court in the land.
Voters across the political spectrum believe the Senate should uphold its basic duty around Supreme Court nominations. Voters believe President Obama has done his job in nominating Judge Garland and now the Senate should do its job. Senate Republicans’ failure to act puts not only Americans’ faith in the judicial system in peril, but the fate of countless Americans whose lives are affected by the crucial issues the court considers day in and day out.