Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who voted against cloture for Justice Samuel Alito, argued that it “would be the height of irresponsibility for the Republican leadership not to have a vote on a nominee from the president” to replace recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday’s broadcast of MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
Leahy said, “I think we ought to talk about this, the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution of the United States says, the president shall nominate justices to the Supreme Court, and then the Senate can vote, advise, and consent. It would be the height of irresponsibility for the Republican leadership not to have a vote on a nominee from the president. We have had numerous times in our history that there’s been a confirmation of a justice in the final year of a presidency. Most recently, when President Reagan — the Democrats were in charge, President Reagan’s nominee was voted on in the last year of his presidency, and we kept it out of politics. I believe it went through unanimously.”
After host Andrea Mitchell told him that the justice he was referring to, Anthony Kennedy, was nominated in 1987, Leahy countered, “[I]t’s basically the same thing, because if the Democrats had run the kind of attitude that the Republicans are, he never would have had a vote.”
He continued, “This country has not gone with a yearlong vacancy on the Supreme Court since the Civil War. Yet we’ve had numerous vacancies filled in the final year of a president’s term, beginning, of course, the first time, with President Washington, but with Republican and Democratic presidents since. It would be the height of irresponsibility. It would — and it’s not as though we don’t have time. The Republicans have set more recesses this year than I’ve ever seen in my years in the Senate, cancel a couple of those, bring us back, we get paid the same whether we’re there or not, bring us back, let us do our job, and vote on a nominee. What kind of impression do you think we are giving to the rest of the world, when our federal judiciary, which is usually held up as the gold standard for the whole world, is suddenly thrust into such politics? I can’t say — I don’t think the late Justice Scalia would want to see that. It is wrong. It is not responsible. It’s beneath our country. It’s beneath the United States Senate.”
After citing the Kennedy confirmation again, Leahy added, “I have never heard any Republican or Democratic leader of the Senate suggest doing something like this. It’s unprecedented. It’s pure politics. And the Supreme Court, of all places, should not be tied up in politics. And then they talk about, what’s the responsibility of the president? Remember, President Obama was elected. He was elected twice, the last time with a 5 million vote plurality. That’s got to be — and everybody knew in voting for him, he might be nominating members of the Supreme Court. I don’t see a [GOP presidential candidate Texas Senator] Ted Cruz getting this 5 million vote plurality, President Obama did, and that’s a plurality to do his job, and I commend the president for wanting to do his job.”
On January 30, 2006, Leahy was one of 25 senators, along with current Senate Minority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and then-Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Joe Biden (D-DE), who voted against a cloture motion on the nomination of Samuel Alito for the US Supreme Court.
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