The Senate's Unearned Vacation

Democratic members of the Senate Judicary Committee convene a meeting to discuss what they see as Supreme Court nominee Merri
Democratic members of the Senate Judicary Committee convene a meeting to discuss what they see as Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland's qualifications to serve on the high court on May 18, 2016. Democrats left half the seats at the dais vacant so to emphasize the Senate Republicans' opposition to holding confirmation hearings for Judge Garland.

Congress begins its “August recess” this Friday, which means that it transitions from actually doing nothing to officially doing nothing. Then, after Labor Day, they get back to the hard work of, for better or worse, doing almost nothing.

I don’t begrudge anyone a summer vacation. I usually take a break in August, too ― although unlike Congress I actually wait until August to do it. But I can’t help thinking Congress would get more enjoyment during its time off if didn’t shirk its responsibilities during its time on. And there’s no more blatant shirking going on than the Senate’s failure to consider President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland. The end of this week will mark 120 days since Judge Garland was nominated to the highest court in the land. Yet Senate Republicans have categorically refused to hold a hearing on his nomination.  

There is an irony here that has not gone unnoticed.

As they should be, members of Congress are most often focused on job creation. Generating good, secure jobs based here in the U.S should be a top legislative priority. But Senate Republicans ― most of whom are in no danger of becoming unemployed anytime soon ― are refusing to do their jobs. Instead, they’re rolling out every “dog ate my homework” excuse they can conjure. Self-proclaimed constitutional purists have sunk to asserting that the Supreme Court needs only eight justices. Others have claimed that nominees don’t receive votes in an election year. Nonsense. In the past, six Supreme Court nominees have been confirmed in the final year of a presidential term.

The Supreme Court needs nine justices. Period. The Constitution is clear: The president nominates the justices, and the Senate provides “Advice and Consent.” By hindering the ability of the Supreme Court to function, Senate Republicans are holding our government hostage. Once the president has submitted a nominee, refusing to hold a hearing is partisan politics at its worst.

These are momentous times for the United States, and a functional judicial branch is imperative.  At stake are nothing less than the clean air, clean water, and climate action safeguards that we have fought for decades to secure, as well as policies that protect the rights of American workers to organize, the rights of American women to choose, and the right of people of all races, religions, national origins, and orientations to equal protection under the law.

That’s why, this week, environmental groups, faith groups, and countless others are joining in chorus to send a message to the U.S. Senate: Do your job and hold a hearing to confirm Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination.