The Des Moines Register’s editorial board wrote that Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) refusal to hold hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee “called into question” Grassley’s “own integrity” and could redefine the long-serving senator’s career.
On March 16, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Since then, The Des Moines Register and other Iowa papers have been vocal in calling for Grassley, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee and is in charge of initiating nomination hearings, to proceed with the nomination process.
The May 15 editorial claimed that Grassley’s obstruction of the nomination process gives the impression that the senator is “putting politics ahead of the national interest” and says that it isn’t just Democrats who disagree with Grassley. Citing poll numbers showing “67 percent of Americans favored Senate hearings on the Garland nomination,” the editorial demonstrated the public’s rejection of Grassley’s argument that the nomination process should be delayed until after the next election.
By announcing, within hours of Scalia’s death, his intent to prevent any Obama nominee from getting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley did more than stake out a controversial position on an issue. He called into question his own integrity and he created the appearance, at least, that he was putting politics ahead of the national interest.
That’s not just the assessment of liberal Democrats, some of whom have expressed grudging respect for the senator over the years. Many Republicans are also deeply troubled by Grassley’s actions.
Last week, a CNN poll found that 67 percent of Americans favored Senate hearings on the Garland nomination. Only 28 percent were opposed to hearings. Similar numbers were reported in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in mid-April. What’s more, both polls show that public support for confirmation hearings is rapidly growing.
Grassley hasn’t helped his cause with his claim that by blocking any Obama nominee to the court, he is simply “letting the people have their say” on the matter this November.
“Not very often do the people have a chance to express the view on, ‘Do you want a very liberal person put on the court or a conservative person put on the court?’” Grassley says.
Not very often? More like never. Supreme Court justices aren’t selected through any sort of popular vote — and for good reason. They’re not politicians, and issues of constitutional rights are best not determined on Election Day.
And that’s the fundamental and inescapable problem with Grassley’s contrived “let the people speak” rationale for refusing to hold hearings. It’s built on a framework of contradictory assumptions that conflict with past practice and the U.S. Constitution, and aren’t even grounded in reality:
First, there’s the notion that the general public — not just the president and the Senate — ought to have some say in selecting Supreme Court justices via the November presidential election. It’s bizarre that Grassley, who often complains the court is “too politicized” and doesn’t adhere to strict readings of the Constitution, would even suggest this.
Second, there’s the assumption that presidential elections are single-issue referendums as to what sort of justices belong on the high court. Even now, with Scalia’s seat publicly held hostage by Grassley, voters say they’re far more concerned with a dozen other domestic and foreign issues.
And finally there’s Grassley’s inexplicable assertion that while we can’t rely on the last two presidential elections to determine the will of the people, we will be able to rely on the next one.
Over the course of six terms in the U.S. Senate, three terms in the U.S. House, and 16 years in the Iowa Legislature, Grassley cultivated a reputation for being a fair-minded, hard-working, bipartisan lawmaker.
That well-deserved reputation is now badly damaged — perhaps irretrievably so.