Suddenly, in the span of just a few days, three senators broke rank with the 54-member majority who has denied any action on judicial nominations. It is too early to tell if this shift is a sideshow producing headlines in the Salt Lake Tribune and Politico or the beginning of the end of gridlock in the post-election lame duck session of Congress.
Whatever the outcome in the coming weeks, #DoYourJob is not a strong enough hashtag to chronicle the constitutional crisis created by the senate blockade against President Obama’s 110 judicial nominations. More than 10 percent of the federal bench is vacant.
To put this number in perspective, compare Obama’s vacancy rate of 10.8 percent with President George W. Bush’s 3.7 percent at this same point in his eighth year. This is a virtual shutdown of the third branch of government as the second branch denies its constitutional duty to give “advice and consent” on nominees by the first branch.
Chatter about a constitutional crisis sounds overblown until you recall statements made by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) regarding Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Chief Judge Merrick Garland.
Remember in February, barely an hour after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stunned many with an historic announcement that the next president should fill the vacancy on the Court. McConnell reasoned that with a possible shift in the ideological bent of the Supreme Court the people should have a voice in the selection of the ninth justice. This logic ignores the fact that voters do not elect Supreme Court justices.