By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Nine of the most important people on the planet gather the first Monday of every October to begin a months-long review of laws of the land, making sure that the executive branch has not overstepped its authority and keeping in check legislative decisions from around the country.
The U.S. Supreme Court, of course, doesn’t make its rulings in a vacuum. It takes cases only after being duly approached, following its constitutional duty to interpret issues based on thorough, intelligent argument.
In 1869, in reaction to the growth of the country, and after the number of justices had fluctuated between seven and 10, Congress set the number at nine — a count that has remained in place for 147 years. While the number is set, the seats aren’t always filled because of resignations or deaths.
Which brings us to 2016, Antonin Scalia and the player to be named later.
While the justices live up to their Constitutional responsibility to ponder case law, and President Obama lives up to his by naming a nominee to replace Scalia, the same cannot be said for their colleagues in the U.S. Senate. The latter have thrown up a Trump-like wall around their responsibility to advise and consent regarding the nomination of Merrick Garland, a Texas moderate who by all indications is a judicial scholar of the first caliber.
Those senators standing in the way of confirmation hearings may find their political days numbered, both by action and inaction. America is frankly growing tired of this party-before-country mentality that makes even the simplest elected duty a political impossibility. And the matters before the high court are hardly simplistic.
Senators led by the all-knowing Mitch McConnell of Tennessee (the word “led” used lightly) figure if they delay things long enough they’ll have a better chance of a justice to their liking. I doubt that will happen. Hillary Clinton appears destined to be the next president — and she will likely choose justices with a more liberal bent than this latest nominee.
What will the GOP have gained? Ill will of the voters. And nothing by way of philosophical advancement on the Supreme Court.
The Republican Party is headed for a storm the likes of which it hasn’t seen since the anti-slavery whirlwind that led to its formation. Between its inability to produce a presidential candidate of any consequence and its failure to produce in Congress, the obstinate party is becoming a failed, 162-year-old experiment.
Illinois’ own U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk deserves a salute for standing against the leadership and granting Mr. Garland a private meeting. It most certainly is because Kirk faces his own critical competition this November, but at least he’s done the right thing.
The Senate does not have to have a committee hearing to quiz the nominee ad infinitum, but it does have to convene as a whole to cast a vote. Routine hearings have been a part of the process only since 1955. Timely votes, however, date back to the beginning, as a matter of courtesy and patriotic duty.
Senators must force their leadership to grant this nominee the time he deserves. To do otherwise is to abstain from their public responsibility and subject themselves to the kind of review by voters that they are failing to give to Mr. Garland.