Exactly six months ago, President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit, to fill the vacant seat left by Justice Antonin Scalia in the Supreme Court. Although it has been seven months since Scalia’s death, there has not been a single Senate hearing for Garland’s confirmation in 184 days, making Garland the longest nominee to await a hearing. This delay is a result of partisan politics in an election year that is crucial for Republican senators to maintain a Senate majority.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has maintained that “there will not be hearings or votes” until the next president assumes office, and most Republican senators have remained loyal to his claim. The court is supposed to set aside politics and focus on interpreting the law, but it is clear more than ever that these forces will always be related.
The confirmation of a justice to the nation’s highest court inevitably creates disagreement on who can best interpret the law and preserve the Constitution’s values. However, elected officials must prioritize the needs of the American people. The 4-4 split on the United States v. Texas case in 2016 regarding Deferred Action for Parents of Americans is a quintessential example that we need the confirmation of the ninth justice to guide the direction of national law. In the example of this case, without a ninth justice to break the tie, an immigration policy that would have allowed for immigrants’ parents of U.S. citizens, who are without legal status, to remain in the U.S. with an exemption from deportation remained overturned by the lower courts.
The Supreme Court forms links between law and politics. It is political in nature because it reviews cases of national significance. This past summer, it handed down verdicts regarding affirmative action, women’s health and immigration to name a few. These partisan issues demonstrate that the next justice must be able to separate ideological stances and the law. The question then becomes: How can the court and justices find the right balance between law and politics to review the Constitution and interpret laws in an unbiased way?
Garland deserves to be heard by the entire Senate. He is respected by both conservative and liberal public servants who acknowledge his accomplishments at the Department of Justice and U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. where he consistently demonstrated that a balance between law and politics is possible. When it comes to environmental regulations, he has favored deference to regulatory agencies. For First Amendment issues, he has taken broader views to ensure a transparent and open government. He is known for his verdict in Al Odah v. United States in 2003 when he held that deferral courts could not hear challenges from Guantanamo detainees. Garland’s reasonable verdicts are characterized by his moderation, a quality that takes time and skill to master.
It is time to stop playing political games and to work for the common good, an idea often distorted by those who are more concerned with retaining power than allowing our justice system to function at its full capacity. As recent as June 2016, Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has stated that Garland’s nomination would be delayed unless Republican nominee Donald Trump loses the presidential election, saying that if Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton were to win the election “[Republicans] ought to approve him quickly.”
This election cycle has demonstrated the dangers of close-mindedness and ignorance. The struggle to nominate Garland is a wake-up call for us to realize that polarization is a blight on our political system. We have to create positive change through moderation, collaboration and balance, all qualities Garland has been known to possess throughout his career in public service.
Law and politics can work together to maintain a healthy balance between personal beliefs and preserving the law and Constitution. It is human nature to engage in politics, which generates a responsibility for each individual to work for the the good of society. Politics must involve compromise and discussion, even if such conversations make participants uncomfortable. At the end of the day, our political system will change for the better and favor moderate public servants like Garland, who embodies the qualities that the Founding Fathers first ascribed to Supreme Court justices.
Jessica Andino is a sophomore in the College.