The Democratic line on the ongoing Supreme Court fight is pretty straightforward. Indeed, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) summarized it well a couple of weeks ago when she told her Republican colleagues, “Do your job.”
For weeks, the Republican response has been rooted in semantics. Technically, the Constitution gives the Senate an “advise and consent” role in the confirmation process, but since the document doesn’t literally say senators have to vote on a nominee, the GOP argument goes, then maybe Republicans can do their jobs by refusing to do their jobs.
It’s a clumsy and unpersuasive pitch, but that’s the talking point and they’re sticking to it.
At least, that’s the argument now. Right Wing Watch yesterday dug up an interesting quote from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who said in 2005, in reference to judicial confirmations, “Let’s do our jobs.”
Eleven years ago, with a Republican in the White House, Grassley was emphatic that the Senate act quickly on the president’s judicial nominations, telling colleagues that slowing down the confirmation process was “like being a bully on the schoolyard playground.”According to Grassley in 2005, for the Senate to do its job, George W. Bush’s nominees would have to receive up-or-down votes.
In May 2005, Grassley said to deny a senator an up-or-down vote on a judicial nominee would be to undermine a senator’s “constitutional responsibility.”
Perhaps, the right will argue, standards change when it’s a seat on the Supreme Court at stake. Maybe so. But the same Right Wing Watch report noted that when then-President George W. Bush nominated Samuel Alito to the high court Grassley issued a fascinating press release quoting Alexander Hamilton:
The Constitution provides that the President nominates a Supreme Court Justice, and the Senate provides its advice and consent, with an up or down vote. In Federalist 66, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “it will be the office of the President to nominate, and, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint. There will, of course, be no exertion of choice on the part of the Senate. They may defeat one choice of the Executive, and oblige him to make another; but they cannot themselves choose – they can only ratify or reject the choice he may have made.”
Grassley now believes, however, that he has the authority to block a qualified Supreme Court nominee from even receiving a confirmation hearing.
Obviously, 2005 Grassley would be outraged by 2016 Grassley. In fact, given Senate Republicans’ propensity for making up “rules” out of whole cloth, perhaps these new revelations could serve as the basis for a Grassley Rule: in order for senators to do their job, they actually have to consider Supreme Court nominees.