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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Jan 19, 2018

Justices, ‘lame ducks’ and Murky Thursday

By KARYN SPORY | Apr 08, 2016

What the lame duck?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot recently.

Over the course of the past two months, I have heard President Obama labeled a “lame duck” specifically in reference to Congress’ decision to not to hold any hearings to confirm Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

Following Justice Scalia’s death, Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland as his replacement. Since then, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have maintained they would not hold a hearing on Garland.

Republican presidential candidates have stated it is not within Obama’s bounds to nominate anyone to fill Scalia’s seat, as he’s a “lame duck” president and this is a fiercely contested presidential race. “We have 80 years of precedent of not confirming justices in an election year,” Ted Cruz stated during the CBS Republican presidential debate in South Carolina.

Cruz instead believes the next president should fill the vacancy.

Now, let’s get one thing straight, Obama is not a “lame duck” president; stop using it as an excuse to pick and choose the duties he’s allowed to perform during his final year as president.

The term “lame duck is used to depict a president filling out his last days in office after his successor has already been elected. The main word there being “after”. Not during the time candidates are duking it out and making fools of the political process, but once all the ballots have been counted, chads debated and a winner emerges from the rubble.

The original “lame duck” season lasted from November until March 4, and yes, four months was a long time for a president to sit in office, twiddling his thumbs, just waiting for the next guy to move in. So, Congress took action and ratified the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in 1933, bumping up the presidential swearing in to January 20.

Going back to Cruz’s statement, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was nominated by former President Ronald Regan in 1987 and confirmed by the Senate in 1988, an election year. But the question debate moderator John Dickerson posed to Cruz was, is it appointments, nominations or both that should not be allowed during an election year and when should the cutoff be?

My question is, why should there be a cutoff?

It is a president’s constitutional right to appoint a Supreme Court Justice nominee, why should that right be limited? A president is elected for four years, not three years and the last year is spent in some kind of “lame duck” limbo.

Simple reminder, Election Day is still the Tuesday following the first Monday in November- a full seven months away. Ergo, it is within his rights and duty to nominate someone.

If we begin to snip away at a nomination timeline, when does it stop? The last six months of a president’s term? The final year? Once a candidate announces their intent to run? We do that and it will keep creeping up earlier and earlier, like Black Friday, which has turned into Murky Thursday. Families can’t even have Thanksgiving dinner; it has to be brunch now because Momma’s got to get into line to get that sweet 52” TV.

On Wednesday, President Obama (or his social media staffer) tweeted out “The Senate has more than enough time to give Judge Garland a fair up-or-down vote. #DoYourJob.”

The tweet was linked with a graphic stating, “On average, it’s taken 67 days to confirm recent Supreme Court nominees. President Obama has more than 250 days left in office.”

All that is being asked is Judge Garland is given a fair hearing.

Ducks and Justices aside, for me, what this all boils down to is that we are so politically charged, polarized and divided that we can’t even talk to someone if they identify with a party that is not our own.

Republicans, like McConnell and Grassley don’t want to hold a hearing on Garland because he is seen as ruling more liberally, whereas Justice Scalia was notoriously conservative or “right-winged”.

The question we’re asking ourselves and our leaders shouldn’t be when should a president’s duties and usefulness end, but how can we get past our biases and party lines so the country doesn’t feel like its going to politically implode.

During my career as a journalist, I’ve had the opportunity to interview a wide array of candidates seeking public office – local, state and national office – and I always have one question I like to ask, “What can we do as a society to become less politically polarized? How do we get past turning off our ears, and maybe even our brains, when we hear a candidate belongs to the other party?

In the past I’ve heard some good responses from both parties, but this campaign cycle I’ve been wholeheartedly discouraged.

However, since I’ve started writing this, some Senators like Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) have met with Garland.

So here I say it, Grassley, Senate, do your jobs. Hold a hearing a determined if Garland should be confirmed or denied based on his merits.

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