It's been weeks now since President Obama announced Merrick Garland was his pick for the empty U.S. Supreme Court seat.
The seat was of course made vacant by the unexpected passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, a known conservative firebrand.
It's the president's job to nominate his successor, which he did. It's the U.S. Senate's job to hold confirmation hearings to determine whether the nominee qualifies, which they haven't. Their reasons for inaction include "NOBAMA!" and the laughably false notion that a president can't nominate a justice in an election year.
(Another theory: they're concerned that any Obama nominee would create an imbalance that would lean incredibly liberal and subsequently overturn Citizens United and make everyone get gay married.)
Democrats are fed up with this, and locally a group of prominent members of the party held a press conference Tuesday morning on the steps of the federal court building in Tampa — where Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has a (presumably cobwebby) district office — calling on Republican Senators to cut the crap.
“We're here on the steps of the federal courthouse to ask Senator Rubio to do his job. It's a constitutional requirement to fill the vacancies," said Susan McGrath, an organizer with the progressive group Florida Consumer Action Network.
And it's not just the U.S. Supreme Court that's suffering, she said.
"There's actually four federal judicial vacancies in Florida now that haven't been filled and are on an average more than a year on the waiting list," McGrath added. "The backlog is over 50,000 cases. So it's denying citizens access to the judicial system.”
There are a lot of important cases currently active, said Judithanne Scourfield-McLauchlan, a political science professor at USF St. Pete and a Democratic activist, including ones dealing with abortion, voting rights and immigration. If the court is tied on any of these, either a lower court's decision will stand or they can postpone their decision until another term.
“One of the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation was that there was no judiciary, so the framers of our Constitution universally agreed that we had to have a Supreme Court of the United States that was going to resolve important federal questions," she said. "Right now, without having a full bench, we might effectively be shutting down the federal judiciary.”
As for the thought that it's not OK to confirm a Supreme Court justice during an election year? "Crazy," she said.
"It's a dereliction of duty, really," Scourfield-McLauchlan said. "I can think of a dozen Supreme Court justices confirmed in presidential election years, justices like Justice Kennedy, Justice Bardozo, Justice Brandeis. So we had an election. Voters reelected President Obama. He has made a nomination. We elected Senators. And their job is to hold hearings and to act on this nomination.”
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, also condemned the Senate's politicization of the process.
"There are only 300 days left in the current administration, and every U.S. Supreme Court nominee since the 1980s has had a hearing and a vote within 100 days of being nominated," Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D—Tampa) said in a written statement following the event. "So for the U.S. Senate to stall and delay is really unseen and it is not up to the standards of our great country."
Just as Democrats accuse Republicans of playing politics with the process, many Republicans argue Dems are guilty of the same. After all, it's their party's president who is making the nomination and their party that could lose in November (and may argue that it'll be a stronger year for Republicans).
McGrath said, again, the justice system is backlogged, and it's unfair to those involved in these cases that have ground to a halt, whether they're Republicans or Democrats.
“Look at what's being held up in the judicial court system," she said. "There's cases being held up in Florida. The federal cases we just talked about that have not been heard, and then there are cases before the Supreme Court that are going to be tied 4-4. So how do you answer to the people who have a vested interest in having those cases heard?”