Coats Column: Let the People Decide
Senator Dan Coats
The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia marked a great loss for our nation. Justice Scalia possessed a brilliant legal mind and loyally served our country throughout his distinguished career.
His passing created a unique situation – a Supreme Court vacancy in the middle of a highly contentious presidential election process. These are rare circumstances, as the Senate has not confirmed a nominee in a similar situation in 128 years.
The last time a justice was nominated to the Supreme Court in a presidential election year and confirmed by a Senate controlled by the opposing party was 1888 when President Grover Cleveland nominated Justice Melville Fuller to be Chief Justice.
Over the past eighty years, a Supreme Court vacancy has arisen only twice after primary voting began in the presidential election process. In both of those years – 1956 and 1968 – the Senate declined to confirm a replacement.
Article 2, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution tasks the president with the responsibility of nominating justices for the Supreme Court and the Senate with the role of providing its “advice and consent.”
One of the most important responsibilities of a United States Senator is to provide this input on judicial nominees. I take seriously my responsibility to determine the best way to offer my “advice and consent” regarding lifetime appointments to our nation’s highest court.
The Constitution gives the Senate the right to withhold consent on the president’s nominees, either by rejecting a nominee or taking no action. This has been the precedent for both Democratic and Republican Senates.
The current Supreme Court opening is of unprecedented importance. Filling this vacancy will fundamentally alter the Supreme Court’s direction for generations.
Given this vacancy’s rarity and significance, the right thing to do is to give the American people a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. While some have argued that the voters spoke by electing President Obama in 2012, voters more recently chose a Republican Senate in 2014.
With the president and Congress divided on which direction to take our country, I believe the best course of action is to let the people decide. The next president, with input from voters in the November election, should fill the current Supreme Court vacancy.
Sen. Dan Coats is a Republican from Indiana.