WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats are attacking the Republican leadership for having the gall to suggest that any action to fill the Supreme Court's vacancy be put off until next year.
Republicans argue that the nation is embroiled in a politically divisive presidential election. It would be an unfair end run around the will of the people to allow a lame duck president to fill the vacancy with a lifetime position that would likely turn the high court in a sharply leftist direction, perhaps for many years to come.
With our nation preparing to vote in a little more than eight months on the future political direction of our country, and the high court locked in a likely 4-4 tie in the face of monumental decisions, GOP leaders think the people should have a direct say in the electoral outcome that will determine the court's judicial composition.
But in a rank display of political hypocrisy, President Obama and Democratic leaders reject that notion, saying that the Constitution demands the Senate give Obama's nominee due consideration and put him or her to a vote.
Speaking for the Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada wrote in The Washington Post last week that "the Senate's Constitutional duty to give a fair and timely hearing and a floor vote to the president's Supreme Court nominees has remained inviolable."
But Harry Reid and the Democrats were not saying that when a Republican president was in the White House, and George W. Bush's Supreme Court nominee was Samuel Alito, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley in a stinging Washington Post op-ed column last week.
"The duties of the United States Senate are set forth in the Constitution of the United States," Reid said on the Senate floor at that time.
"Nowhere in that document does it say the Senate has a duty to give presidential nominees a vote," Reid said. "It says appointments shall be made with the advice and consent of the Senate. That's very different than saying every nominee receives a vote."
And if the White House and the Republicans didn't get his point, Reid underscored it by saying, "The Senate is not a rubber stamp for the executive branch."
That's when a gaggle of some two dozen former and current Senate Democrats, who now demand a vote this year on Obama's eventual nominee, lined up in an attempt to deny Bush an up-or-down vote on Alito's nomination.
The anti-vote senators were Reid; Charles Schumer, New York; Patrick Leahy, Vermont; then-Sens. Barack Obama, Illinois; Joe Biden, Delaware; John Kerry, Massachusetts; and Hillary Clinton, New York.
Now, Obama, Clinton, Biden and their accomplices are singing a very different tune.
This was when Schumer, who is in line to become the next Senate Democratic leader, delivered an address to the leftist American Constitution Society, saying that the Senate "should reverse the presumption of confirmation" and "not confirm a Supreme Court nominee except in extraordinary circumstances."
Mind you, this was 18 months before the end of Bush's second term.
Perhaps no single Democrat was more hypocritical in past legal battles than Vice President Joe Biden. He delivered a 90-minute speech in June 1992, when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the court was approaching the end of its term -- calling for halting any action on high court nominees.
At the time, George H.W. Bush was in a hard-fought political battle for a second term in the midst of an economic slowdown and declining approval ratings.
In his speech, Biden maintained the president should "not name a nominee until after the November election is completed." And in the event Bush were to name someone, "the Senate Judiciary Committee should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over.
"Senate consideration of a nominee under these circumstances is not fair to the president, to the nominee, or to the Senate itself," Biden said. "Where the nation should be treated to a consideration of constitutional philosophy, all it will get in such circumstances is partisan bickering and political posturing from both parties and from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue."
Now, flash forward to now-Vice President Biden, urging the Senate to take up the president's expected nomination to fill the vacancy in a pivotal election year.
"To leave the seat vacant at this critical moment in American history is a little bit like saying, 'God forbid something happen to the president and the vice president, we're not going to fill the presidency for another year and a half,'" he said in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio last week.
On Monday, Biden issued a statement saying the earlier remarks he made in his long-forgotten 1992 speech had dealt only with "a hypothetical vacancy," and were "not an accurate description of my views on the subject."
In the speech "critics are pointing to today, I urged the Senate and White House to work together to overcome partisan differences to ensure the Court functions as the Founding Fathers intended. That remains my position today," he said.
But Grassley focused on Biden's 1992 remarks when he went to the Senate floor on Monday, fulsomely praising them as "Biden's Rules" that he interpreted this way:
That there should be no presidential nominations to the highest court in the land in an election year, and if there was one, the Senate, as Biden said, should "seriously consider" not conducting hearings on the nominee.
But however this dispute turns out, the Constitution's language in Article II, Section 2, is clear, say McConnell and Grassley. It "grants the Senate the power to provide, or as the case may be, withhold its consent."
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