09.08.16

176 Days After Judge Garland Was Nominated To The Supreme Court, Senator Leahy Addresses The Senate About Continuing Republican Obstruction Of The Nomination

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court Nomination

September 8, 2016

Next month, on the first Monday in October, the Supreme Court will begin its new term. The question before this chamber is whether there should continue to be an empty seat on the dais when it convenes. For seven months, the Court has been missing a justice and because of that vacancy, it has been repeatedly unable to serve as the final arbiter of law. The uncertainty in the law has been harmful to businesses, law enforcement, and to families and children across the country. Worst of all, this constitutional crisis is wholly of Senate Republicans’ making.

In February, the Republican Leader claimed that because it was an election year the Senate would somehow be justified denying any consideration of the next Supreme Court nominee. Based on my conversations with Vermonters and on every poll taken on the issue, the American people reject this partisan justification.

There is no election year exception to Senators doing their jobs. There is no election year exception to the President doing his job. And there is no election year exception to the independent judiciary doing its job. Each branch of our government has its duty under the Constitution. Under Republican leadership, the Senate is rejecting its duty and damaging the functioning of our Supreme Court. This needs to stop.

Since public confirmation hearings began in the Judiciary Committee for Supreme Court nominees a century ago, the Senate has never denied a nominee a hearing and a vote. The late Justice Scalia received a hearing 42 days after his nomination. Justice Kennedy, who was the last justice confirmed in a presidential election year, received a hearing in the Judiciary Committee just 14 days after President Reagan nominated him. Chief Judge Garland’s nomination has been pending for 176 days. Certainly, that unprecedented delay has provided enough time for Senators and their staff to become familiar with his record in preparation for a hearing and a debate.

The press may be focused on what might happen in a lame duck session but this Vermonter is focused on his job now. The time for the Senate to act on the Supreme Court nomination is now. We should have a hearing next week. The Judiciary Committee can debate and consider the nomination the following week and then the full Senate can debate and vote on his confirmation by the end of September. We have taken far less time in the past to confirm Supreme Court justices, as the Senate has realized the urgency of having a Court at full strength.

Chief Judge Garland is ideally suited to serve on the Supreme Court on Day One. He is currently the Chief Judge on the D.C. Circuit, also known as the second highest court. He has been a Federal judge for nearly two decades now, and has more Federal judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in our Nation’s history. As a former Federal prosecutor, he has been praised for his work leading the Justice Department’s efforts on the ground in Oklahoma City in the days after the worst act of home-grown terrorism in our country’s history. Republicans and Democrats alike have recognized Chief Judge Garland as a brilliant and impartial judge with unwavering fidelity to the rule of law.

Republicans should let this chamber finally get to work on Chief Judge Garland’s nomination and bring the Supreme Court back to full strength in time for the first oral argument of October. Of all the challenges facing our country, ensuring that our Supreme Court can serve its highest constitutional function should not be one of them. This is a problem of Senate Republicans’ making but it is also one they can solve – and they should do so without any further delay.

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