President Barack Obama has fulfilled his constitutional obligation by nominating an experienced, well-regarded appeals court judge to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Now the Senate should do its job by holding hearings and voting on whether to confirm Judge Merrick Garland. Senate Republicans who continue to act as obstructionists and ignore the president's nomination for political reasons are eroding public confidence in the legal system and abdicating their constitutional responsibility.
Obama chose carefully in nominating Garland, the widely respected chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — often considered the most important appellate court that hears disputes involving rulemaking by federal agencies. Garland is known as a well-qualified centrist, and the Senate confirmed his appointment to the appeals court in 1997 by a vote of 76-23 with 32 Republicans in support. The 63-year-old Illinois native grew up in humble surroundings and is a Harvard graduate, and his life experiences include being the federal prosecutor who led the investigation and prosecution after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Garland was previously considered twice by Obama for the court before he was passed over for Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Obama disappointed liberal groups this time by not nominating someone younger who could have added more diversity to the court, served longer and tilted the court more to the left. While Garland would be expected to move the court in a more progressive direction, he is well-liked by Republicans and would be viewed as a consensus choice under different circumstances. Yet Senate Republicans appear determined to abdicate their responsibility in an attempt to score political points with their party's conservative base.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell renewed his vow to ignore Obama's nomination and illogically argued that presidents should not make appointments to the court in an election year. He accused the president of politicizing the issue, when the opposite is true, and of denying the American people an opportunity to make their voices heard. Voters made their voices heard when they re-elected Obama, and presidents do not stop fulfilling their duties in their final year in office.
It should be clear by now that voters are fed up with Washington. This is exactly the sort of political dysfunction that has led to the rise of Donald Trump among Republicans and Bernie Sanders among Democrats. Every single Supreme Court nominee since 1955 has received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee except for those nominees who withdrew from consideration. There is absolutely no reason to stop that practice now.
Congress is headed toward a two-week recess, and voters back home should tell their elected leaders they want Washington to work as the U.S. Constitution spells out. Obama has responsibly done his job by nominating Garland, a respected appellate court judge with a clear record and a reputation for building consensus. Now the Senate should do its job by holding confirmation hearings and taking a vote.