Constitutional consequences

To the Editor:

Within an hour of the world learning that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that despite the president’s constitutional duty to nominate and the Senate’s duty to provide “advice and consent,” the Senate would not consider a nomination to fill the Supreme Court vacancy until after the next president is inaugurated in January 2017.

What will Maine U.S. Senator Susan Collins say and do in response?

The primary Republican argument is that voters should be allowed to consider the vacancy when choosing the next president, who should then do the nominating. In 2012, the voters did decide who should nominate Supreme Court Justices. President Obama has more than 10 months left in his term. He was re-elected for a four-year, not a three-year-and-a-couple-of-weeks term. The will of voters is abundantly clear. Elections have consequences, and we expect and we need those elected to do their jobs until their term is over.

Another argument is that there is little if any precedent for a nomination in a final year of office. That is false. It’s been done 17 times, including in recent times for William Rehnquist and Anthony Kennedy.

McConnell’s move is an attempt by one political party, by brute political force, to impose its will over that of the voters. It places rank partisanship above our need to self-govern according to our Constitution. We cannot, we must not, allow this to happen.

Regardless of one’s political orientation, we should all be able to acknowledge that such an abuse of power and process would have far greater negative consequences for our democracy than having a new Supreme Court justice we might not always agree with.

The Supreme Court cannot afford to have its independence and legitimacy undermined by any political party that would seek to control it by leaving a vacancy for over a year and campaigning on the issue, hoping to be able to solidify its brand of jurisprudence into the infinite future. The Supreme Court’s composition and orientation always has changed over time. That’s how it must function, reflecting the diverse perspectives in the country.

Sen. Collins needs to promptly tell us her position on the Senate’s obligation to perform its constitutionally mandated duty of “advice and consent” to a nominee to the Supreme Court that will be put forth by the president.

Gail Marshall

Mount Desert

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