The Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC. Photo taken by Tim Sackton (CC-By-SA 2.0).
The Supreme Court of the United States Building
Photo credit: Tim Sackton (CC-By-SA 2.0)
The Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC. Photo taken by Tim Sackton (CC-By-SA 2.0).
The Supreme Court of the United States Building
Photo credit: Tim Sackton (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Our system of government was designed to be of the people, by the people and for the people.  To protect the God-given natural rights of each citizen and preserve our liberty, the U.S. Constitution was specifically designed to limit governmental power.  That’s why we have checks and balances to keep any one of the co-equal branches from overreaching.  It’s why we have elections.  And it’s why we have robust public debates ahead of those elections to determine who best can lead our country and make lasting decisions like nominating Supreme Court justices.

Iowans have a special appreciation for these debates.  We just completed another edition of our unique, first-in-the-nation caucuses, where citizens come together to openly debate and discuss the best direction for the future of our nation. 

This year, Iowans and the entire country have a unique opportunity to expand that debate to include the role of the Supreme Court and the direction it will take for an entire generation.  For the first time in decades, this debate has palpable relevance and lasting consequences. 

Americans have a chance to deliberate the characteristics we want in a Supreme Court justice and which presidential candidate shares our vision for the role of the court. Do we want someone who will decide cases based on the law, as the late Justice Scalia did?  Or do we want a justice who believes the truly difficult cases should be decided based on “what is in the judge’s heart” as then-Senator Obama famously said?

During my regular meetings with constituents in Iowa, I often hear expressions of concern and frustration about justices legislating from the bench, essentially issuing rulings that create new law, rather than simply interpreting the law.  Others worry that justices allow their own political views to cloud their judgment.  These are legitimate issues that should be debated as a nation.  And now is the perfect time for that debate, as voters prepare to choose our next president, Democrat or Republican. 

So, as Americans already have begun casting votes for the next president, my Republican colleagues and I will exercise our constitutional authority to withhold consent on a Supreme Court nominee.  Our decision is based on the principle that in our American system of representative government the people should be empowered to weigh in on such a consequential decision, the direction of the Supreme Court.

Our nation is divided, our government is divided, and our high court hangs in the balance.  In 2014, voters signaled they wanted a departure from President Obama’s policies when they revoked the Democrats’ Senate majority and expanded Republican ranks in the House of Representatives.  As the Senate fulfills its “advice and consent” responsibility, we must consider the will of the people.  As Senators, that’s our job. 

The President certainly has the constitutional authority to nominate a justice in an election year, and he intends to use it, even though other presidents, like Abraham Lincoln, chose restraint.  In the Senate, we have the equal constitutional authority to consent or withhold consent.  This is not a new or even partisan idea. 

For example, then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden, lectured in 1992 that “the Senate Judiciary Committee should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over.”  In 2005, than-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, stated, “Nowhere in that document [the Constitution] does it say the Senate has a duty to give presidential nominees a vote.”  In 2007, a year and a half before the end of George W. Bush’s tenure as president, Senator Chuck Schumer, heir apparent as Senate Democratic Leader, proclaimed the Senate “should not confirm a Supreme Court nominee except in extraordinary circumstances.”

History supports this practice.  Not since 1888 has an election year nominee been confirmed during a divided government to fill a vacancy occurring in the same year.  

We are at a rare crossroad in American history, with much at stake. In a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it is the people who should have a say in this debate.  As voters continue to cast ballots during this election, they will know that their vote will not only help to determine who gets the keys to the White House for the next four years, but also who will select our next lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. 

I know Iowans are up to the task.

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