Jay Heck: Sen. Ron Johnson should do his job, support hearing for Judge Merrick Garland

Jay Heck: Sen. Ron Johnson should do his job, support hearing for Judge Merrick Garland

Democrats push McConnell, GOP on Supreme Court nomination (copy)

From left, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which considers judicial nominations, and the Senate Democratic leadership, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., hold a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington April 14 calling on the Republican leadership to allow a confirmation hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. 

Wisconsinites across the state wake up every morning to go to work and do their job. Why then, isn’t U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson doing his job in Washington, D.C.?

Unfortunately for Wisconsin citizens, the senator is blindly adhering to the partisan obstructionist tactics of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. They’ve joined in opposing a fair public hearing and vote on President Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland.

While Johnson has said he will meet with Garland, opposing any hearing or further consideration is a breach of his constitutional duties and an affront to the voters of Wisconsin. Johnson swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” but now it seems that his constitutional duties only apply when it’s politically convenient. Wisconsinites expect more than partisan obstructionism from their U.S. senators. We expect them to display good judgment and independence when the occasion calls for it. Now is such a time.

Blocking a hearing and dragging out the nomination process for over a year is unprecedented when it comes to U.S. Supreme Court appointments. Every member of the current Supreme Court was confirmed within fewer than 100 days of his or her nomination. For each and every nominee since 1975, the Senate has taken an average of 67 days to “advise and consent.” If Johnson has his way, the current vacancy likely would go unfilled for at least 14 months.

Johnson’s concerns with allowing a hearing for Garland appear to be entirely political as he faces a tough re-election battle this year. But he would be wise to emulate his Republican colleague, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, another first-term GOP senator who is facing a tough re-election battle this year. Kirk has bucked his party and the GOP Senate leadership and has called for a hearing for Garland and a vote on his confirmation before Election Day.

And if Johnson is concerned with re-election, he ought to realize that Wisconsin voters want him to do his job and fully consider Obama’s nominee. A recent Public Policy Polling survey found that 62 percent of Wisconsin voters, including 67 percent of independents, said the vacant Supreme Court seat should be filled this year. Another national poll by Monmouth University found that 77 percent of Americans — including 62 percent of Republicans — say Senate Republicans are "playing politics" by not allowing the nominee to get a hearing.

It is clear that voters are rejecting Johnson’s argument that filling the Supreme Court vacancy should wait until the next president is elected. Sixty-five million Americans, including a majority of Wisconsin voters, elected Obama to a full four-year term in 2012.

The time is now for Johnson to reject partisan obstruction of the Senate’s constitutional duties and to listen to the majority of voters who want a fair hearing and timely vote. It’s time for him to do the job Wisconsinites elected him to do. He should support holding a hearing and a confirmation vote. Johnson can vote against Garland. But he should support having the vote. That’s the Wisconsin way.

Jay Heck is the executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, the state’s largest nonpartisan citizen reform advocacy organization with more than 6,000 members/followers. For more information call 608-256-2686. 

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Judge Karofsky is prepared to serve on the Supreme Court and deserves an overwhelming victory. To assure that victory, however, voters should make an extra effort to get their ballots cast and counted in this extraordinary moment.