Obstruction and the death of Justice Scalia

Sam Pope, Contributing Writer

Obstruction (n) : something that impedes progress.

Throughout President Obama’s presidency, the Republicans in Congress have repeatedly impeded the progress of our federal government.

On Feb. 13, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, leaving the Supreme Court with a 4-4 split between liberal and conservative justices of the court. This makes the nomination for a new justice an important point of contention, as it will swing the court to become a majority of liberal or conservative justices

President Obama’s constitutional duty, per Article Two of the U.S. Constitution, is to nominate a Supreme Court justice. Of course, this nomination must be with the advice and consent of the Senate according to the same article of the Constitution, which means that the nominee must undergo the Senate confirmation process. This is the constitutional process by which presidential nominees are confirmed for their positions. The nominee is first sent to the judiciary committee, which is a bipartisan committee in the Senate. The nominee is then sent to the Senate floor to be voted on. A simple majority is needed for a nominee to be confirmed.

The same day that Scalia was pronounced dead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) announced that he, along with the Senate Republicans, would block any Obama nominee. McConnell justified his position by saying that the nomination should be left for the next president, arguing that the nomination should be left for the next president to decide. McConnell argues that waiting until the election will allow the American people to have a say in picking the next justice for the court.

The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) furthered McConnell’s stance by stating that his committee would not move forward with any Obama nominee. By refusing to consider an Obama nominee, the Senate Republicans are disregarding their constitutional duties and obstructing the process of our federal government.

The far-right wing of the Republican Party has acquired a disproportionate amount of power in the party and in the federal government. This trend started with the creation of the conservative Tea Party Caucus in 2010, a group of House and Senate members that includes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and continued with the founding of the Freedom Caucus in 2015, which focuses on promoting socially conservative legislation.

In a show of power, the Freedom Caucus forced former Speaker of the House John Boehner to resign. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), a conservative supported by the Freedom Caucus, replaced him as Speaker. The Republican Party has become captive to these socially conservative voices in Congress, who represent extremely religious and socially conservative republican voters.

The amount of influence the right-wing, socially conservative members of the Republican Party have in Congress is problematic because their perspectives do not align with the American people. The Freedom and Tea Party Caucus members are opposed to abortion, gay marriage, and expanded gun control. According to Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans support abortion in all or most cases, the right of homosexual couples to marry, and the expansion of background checks for gun sales. These three social issues demonstrate how the far right wing of the Republican Party in Congress does not properly represent the policy stances of the American people.

This attempt to block any Obama nominee demonstrates how right-wing Republicans are causing obstruction in Congress. The far-right argues the most democratic way to replace Scalia is to wait until the American people elect the next president. However, the American people already democratically elected President Obama in 2012 with a 51.1% majority vote. In addition, a poll carried out by Pew Research Center shows that the majority of Americans (56%) believe the Senate should give consideration and vote on an Obama nominee. The Senate Republicans are violating their duties as elected officials by ignoring the interests of the American people. It is clear that the American people wish for government to progress as it should under the Constitution.

The same partisan issues previously discussed (abortion, gay marriage, and gun rights) are at the center of the Republicans’ refusal to hear a nominee. The far right-wing is concerned that a liberal justice on the court would swing the court left, which would render cases involving those three issues to be decided in a liberal manner. However, as was pointed out before, those liberal positions are actually the opinions held by the majority of Americans.

Congress is gridlocked. The recent behavior of the Senate Republicans in response to the Supreme Court vacancy proves the far-right is the main cause for obstruction in our government. This obstruction that goes against the will of the American people.

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