For the Monitor
Friday, February 19, 2016
Justice Antonin Scalia was a staunch defender of our Constitution and a brilliant jurist. Through the force of his intellect, he made contributions to our nation that will impact our lives for generations to come, and all Americans join his family in mourning his death.
Justice Scalia’s unexpected passing creates a vacancy on the Supreme Court, which is now ideologically evenly split – four to four – by justices nominated by Democratic and Republican presidents. Supreme Court justices have significant power in our constitutional system of government as they are the final arbiter on the meaning of our Constitution and laws. Empowered with a lifetime appointment, the next nominee is likely to have a significant impact on the court and the people of our country for decades to come.
I believe strongly that the people of New Hampshire must have a say in this extraordinarily important debate. With so much on the line for the future of our country, the Senate should not proceed with a confirmation process until the American people have spoken by electing a new president in November.
Unfortunately, we are already seeing Democrats use this vacancy to try to score political points.
Some of them have short memories. For example, Senator Patrick Leahy said in 2004 that “it is a well-established practice that in presidential election years, there comes a point when judicial confirmation hearings are not continued without agreement.”
A year and a half after he joined then- Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in an unsuccessful filibuster of Samuel Alito’s confirmation, Sen. Chuck Schumer said the Senate should not confirm any additional Supreme Court nominees put forth by President George W. Bush – and he even went so far as to say that if another Republican succeeded Bush and made a Supreme Court nomination, that the Senate “should reverse the presumption of confirmation.”
He made these comments when there were 18 months left in Bush’s term.
While the president has the right under the Constitution to nominate individuals to the Supreme Court and executive agencies, he does so with the “advice and consent” of the Senate. This is a responsibility I take very seriously as your senator, and I have carefully considered the qualifications of judicial and executive branch nominees – in fact, since I came to the Senate, I’ve voted to confirm more than 100 of the president’s judicial nominees.
But the Constitution does not dictate how and when the Senate must act on nominations. Minority Leader Harry Reid seemed to concur when he said in 2007 that “the president must recognize that under the Constitution he is not the sole decider when it comes to judicial nominees.”
This election year will have enormous consequences for our country, and I believe New Hampshire citizens and all Americans deserve the opportunity to make their voices heard in the presidential election – and the chance to decide who appoints this consequential next Supreme Court justice. I will continue to stand up to ensure that New Hampshire citizens have a voice in this nomination, which will have a significant impact on the direction of our country for generations to come.
(Kelly Ayotte, a Nashua Republican, represents New Hampshire in the United States Senate.)