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Kathy Castor, other Democratic activists call on GOP Senate to give Merrick Garland a vote

Tampa-St. Petersburg Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and three other Democratic activists stood in front of the steps of the U.S. Federal Courthouse on Tuesday with a simple message for Marco Rubio and the rest of the Republican Senate regarding Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

“We are here to ask Senator Marco Rubio to please do his job – it’s his constitutional requirement to fill these vacancies, and we ask that they do so,” said Susan McGrath from the Florida Consumer Action Network.

Democrats have been calling on Senate Republicans to “do their jobs” ever since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he would not bring President Obama’s nominee for a vote until after this fall’s presidential election.

McConnell made that statement less than two hours after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead in Texas. Two weeks ago, Obama nominated Garland, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals.

Polls shows that the public agrees with the Democrats on this issue. A CNN/ORC survey released last Friday shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans want the Senate to hold confirmation hearings on his candidacy, and a majority of Americans say the Senate should ultimately vote to confirm him.

Citing the GOP government shutdown in the fall of 2013, Castor said it was “appalling” that the Senate Republicans would take their “dysfunction to the judicial branch.” She said that since the 1980s, every Supreme Court nominee has had a vote within 100 days of his or her nomination. There’s still approximately 300 days left in the Barack Obama administration.

McGrath criticized Republicans in the U.S. Senate for procrastinating judges in the lower circuits, saying that there aren’t enough federal judges in place in Florida right now.

“Currently there are four vacancies in Florida District Courts, with two more seats open this year,” she said. “On average these spots have remained open for more than 358 days,” adding that when the criminal justice slows down, people have less access to justice.

“It’s obvious that women deserve a full court,” said Anna Eskamani, Senior Director of Public Affairs and Field Operations, Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. Eskimani referred to two recent issues that have come before the Supreme Court on reproductive rights, as well as litigation involving abortion rights in Florida.

The Court has continued to meet regularly since Scalia’s death, and there have already been several 4-4 ties on the current eight-member bench. The Democratic activists say with more important cases coming up over the next few months, there could be many cases that go unresolved after years of time and money spent to make it to the ultimate judicial branch.

“The impact of not confirming the ninth justice on the court effectively means that we may not have a Supreme Court,” said USFSP political science professor Judithanne McLauchlan, referring to the split decisions that the court makes every year. “And there are many important cases on the court’s docket right now issues from abortion to contraception coverage, immigration and deportation, labor rights a whole host of cases right now that may not be able to be resolved this term.”

Republican have cited a speech that Vice President Joe Biden gave when he served in the Senate back in 1992 as ample evidence that Democrats would be saying the exact same things that the Republicans are if the roles were reversed. Biden said that then President George H.W. Bush should delay filling a Supreme Court vacancy, should one arise, until the presidential election was over, and that it was “essential” that the Senate refuse to confirm a nominee to the court until then.

Not the same thing, counters Castor.

“Vice President Biden’s comments back when he was a senator was in a completely different context, there wasn’t even a vacancy on the court,” she said.”The responsibilities are pretty clear cut under the Constitution. The president nominates the court nominee, the Senate advises and consents and votes.” Castor said there’s the politics of the issue, and then there is the human element. She referred to how President Obama’s actions that shield deportations for millions of undocumented people now remain unclear, nearly a year and a half after his executive actions.

Despite McConnell’s dictum, there already appears to be fissures in the GOP senate caucus.

Later on Tuesday, Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, a politically vulnerable first-term re-election-seeking officeholder, is scheduled to become the first Republican in the chamber to meet Merrick. Kirk has also called on Merrick to get a vote on the nomination.

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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