Senators Charles Schumer and Sheldon Whitehouse took to the steps of the Supreme Court Wednesday to demand that the Senate give Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, a fair confirmation hearing. League of Conservation Voters (LCV) activists joined them, carrying boxes containing petitions with more than 200,000 signatures gathered nationwide calling on Republican senators to act.
“For nearly four months, Senate Republicans have sat on their hands and refused to do their jobs,” said Schumer, a New York Democrat. “Environmental cases are now winding their way through the courts, and they’re going to determine how clean our air and water are. … So it’s imperative … that we get a decent Supreme Court.”
In March, Obama nominated Garland, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February. Garland’s strong reputation among conservatives as well as liberals seemed to suggest a quick confirmation. Yet even before Garland was tapped, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the GOP-controlled Senate would refuse to confirm any replacement nominated by Obama.
Senate Republican leaders have honored that pledge. In an early morning meeting Wednesday, key staffers in the office of Senator Chuck Grassley, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told LCV organizers that under no circumstances would Garland get a hearing. “We asked, what if there were different nominees, if he withdrew, if they added someone else, and basically what circumstances would have to happen?” Seth Stein, LCVs’ national press secretary, told The American Prospect. “It was a very strong ‘It’s not going to happen.’”
It has been 84 days since Obama tapped Garland, the longest a Supreme Court nominee has waited for a Senate hearing in U.S. history (the previous record was 83 days). “They’re playing partisan politics at its very worst and have really sunk to a new low with this unprecedented and extreme obstruction,” said Tiernen Sittenfeld, LCV’s senior vice president.
For environmental advocates, the stakes could not be higher. In February, three days before Scalia’s death, the high court blocked the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s signature climate change initiative. The unprecedented stay order, which halts the plan’s implementation while a GOP-led lawsuit works its way through the courts, seemed to confirm fears that the high court would soon kill the measure. Although Scalia’s death made such a ruling less likely, the stay order still puts the plan’s future in uncertain territory.
Senator Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, also pointed to the high court’s attack on campaign-finance rules, which has given certain industries, like the oil and coal sectors, a blank check to influence policymaking in Washington. “This should not be complicated,” Whitehouse said. “Protect Citizens United with a vacancy and use Citizens United to buy a polluter-funded Congress, and protect the fossil fuel industry from any progress on climate change.” Not surprisingly, McConnell has long been one of the top recipients of oil and coal money in Congress.
“Our Republican colleagues have a choice to make,” Schumer added. “They can continue to keep the seat vacant so Donald Trump can fill it. Or they can do their jobs and give Judge Garland a hearing and a vote.”
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