Our two U.S. senators, David Perdue and Johnny Isakson, have joined their Republican colleagues in refusing to even consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Despite Garland’s sterling legal and personal reputation, despite the high praise that he has earned in the past from influential Republicans as a moderate, non-activist judge, they refuse to give Garland the Southern courtesy of a meeting, let alone a hearing or confirmation vote.
It is an act of spite motivated by partisanship, but it is also much more than that. It could have consequences to our constitutional form of government that extend well beyond this election cycle or even the lifespans of those involved. It weakens the Senate, it weakens the courts and their assumption of impartiality and it weakens public confidence in government.
Under the Constitution, the Senate has the obligation to provide advice and consent regarding judicial nominations. When Republicans defend this refusal to act by pointing out that the Founders did not include a constitutional timetable by which that duty must be carried out, they’re technically right. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and others apparently assumed that those elected to the Senate would act in timely fashion in carrying out their duties, without the need for a deadline, and 227 years later, they have been proved wrong in that assumption.
You can decide for yourselves whether the blame for that goes to the Founders for their lack of imagination, or to those in the Senate today for their lack of backbone.
Either way, with this refusal to act, Senate Republicans will have denied the Supreme Court a ninth and often-deciding vote for more than a year. Major cases are already being denied resolution because of that refusal. But the real danger is the precedent being set: If the Senate can refuse to act for more than a year while waiting for a change of presidents, why not wait two years, or three?
With this refusal to act, we are now perilously close to a situation in which it will be impossible for a president and Senate of different parties to agree upon a Supreme Court justice, regardless of who it might be. That would represent a substantial breakdown of our constitutional system of government and the balance of power among its branches. As important as a Supreme Court appointment can be, it pales in significance to the damage being done here.
I can’t say that I’m disappointed by Perdue’s stance. He is a well-connected multi-millionaire from Sea Island who was appointed to the coveted Georgia Ports Authority by his governor/cousin who also happens to be his business partner in a trucking company serving those ports. Now, as a member of the “world’s most exclusive club” as a senator, he laughably describes himself as an “outsider” while conforming to the party line dictated to him.
Isakson’s case is different. I’ve covered him for more than 25 years, dating back to his days in the state Legislature. He is a thoughtful and decent man, with an instinct to do good. Under the Gold Dome, he was well-respected on both sides as someone who valued compromise and sought to make the institutions of government work.
That Isakson is rarely seen in Washington. And when history records that you pursued temporary partisan advantage at the price of permanent damage to the constitutional structure of our government, if you had a position of power and authority from which to speak but you fell silent because of peer pressure, if you failed to follow your conscience at a time when people of conscience were needed most … well, I hope you’re comfortable with that legacy.