Supreme Court Stalemate

Democracy Roulette


by Bruce Strom

I’m tired of the games in Washington D.C.  I know you are too.  A few years ago they were childish kid games where everyone outside the beltway just said – “grow up”.  The problem is they did.  The games became a dangerous game of chicken.  Both sides refused to back down and gridlock became synonymous with politics.  This week Washington upped its game to democracy roulette.

Acting pursuant to Article II of the Constitution the President nominated Merrick Garland for the US Supreme Court.  Honestly he didn’t have a choice.  Article II states, “he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint…Judges of the Supreme Court.”  So the President did his job.  Now the Senate needs to do theirs.  Honestly, democracy hangs in the balance.

Historically, we didn’t even have senate judiciary committee meetings until 1955.  Since that time some Presidents have withdrawn candidates, some have been voted down, but NEVER has there been a refusal to uphold the Constitution and provide the advice and consent required.  This is a game that should not be played.

Important issues impacting people’s lives hang in the balance.  Allowing a vacancy to remain open for more than a year with potential 4-4 deadlocks hurts liberals, conservatives and those of us who still care about democracy.   But in Washington D.C. that doesn’t matter.

Next week millions of dollars of TV ads will run in Iowa, Senator Charles Grassley’s home state.  Sen. Grassley is the chair of the Judiciary Committee that should be conducting hearings.  According to the New York Times, the ads conclude, “Tell Senator Grassley, keep fighting for the rights of Iowans to decide the Supreme Court’s future.”  Really?  Since when did my friend, Fred Farmer, in Iowa decide the Supreme Court’s future?  I honestly don’t read that in Article II of the United States Constitution.  But some among us are dangerously tapping into the hate generated by government and the fear generated by a changing world.

For the Republicans this is a dangerous game that has already yielded two front runners who are well outside the mainstream.   The party is playing democracy roulette and is dangerously close to losing.  That should not be cause for celebration by Democrats.  All democracy suffers when we fail to have a robust system that encourages diverse opinions that can work together to make our nation better.

There was no better example of this than Antonin Scalia.  While his death has marked the powder keg for a dangerous game, his life exemplified how people of diverse opinions can work together for the greater good.  I refer to his close friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Not only did they attend operas together and brought their families together every New Year’s Eve, they had genuine respect for each other.  You would be hard pressed to find two people with more divergent opinions on democracy and the role of the judiciary, but each was strengthened by the other.

That is the way democracy is supposed to work.  We can have different views but we are not Republicans or Democrats, we are Americans and that should unite us around a common decency.  That decency is not exhibited in hate, name calling, bullying, and refusing to even do one’s job simply because doing so is seen as giving in.  This is a dangerous game and our elected officials have become too entrenched to see what is happening.  The country sees it and is outraged.  This is the rise of the outsiders:  Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Personally, I find hope in the midst of this dangerous game in people like Scalia and Ginsburg.  I don’t know much about Merrick Garland, but we owe it to democracy to hold hearings to learn more.   I hope we stop playing this dangerous game and get back to work.  Real people are suffering and we should care about the needs of our neighbors – especially the poor and vulnerable – more than power politics. Praying for democracy.  Put down the gun.