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Senate Departs without Addressing Supreme Court Vacancy

Senate Departs without Addressing Supreme Court Vacancy

Last Friday marked Congress’ last day in session for 2016, leaving one key issue unresolved: filling the vacancy at the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court has been without nine justices since Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, and as Senators head home for the holidays, it is clear that the vacancy won’t be addressed until sometime in 2017.

The last time the Supreme Court passed an Election Day with a vacancy was in 1864 when Abraham Lincoln won re-election, and Chief Justice Roger Taney had died one week before the election. It has now been over 270 days since President Obama nominated Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit of Appeals, Merrick Garland, to replace Justice Scalia, more than doubling the record for longest time between nomination and a vote (set at 125 days in 1916 by Justice Louis Brandeis). The Senate’s lack of action on the Garland nomination has not gone unnoticed.  However, Garland never even had a hearing before the Judiciary Committee, one of the first steps in the process of providing “advice and consent.”

A vacancy at the Supreme Court hinders its ability mete out justice. With less than 40 cases on the docket for the 2016 term, the Supreme Court is at its lightest workload in 70 years. When the Court does agree to hear a case, the possibility of a 4-4 tie is high, which means that the Supreme Court ’s decision does not set precedent and does not impact the entire United States. This has occurred a few times during the past 10 months, most notably in  United States v. Texas, in which a 4-4 tie blocked implementation of President Obama’s 2014 executive order to create the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program, and to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, both important immigration-related actions.

Jewish tradition teaches that as Moses was setting up the Jewish people’s first judicial system, those appointed were to “judge the people at all seasons” (Exodus 18:22). Many of the Torah's commandments and rabbis' teachings specifically deal with the importance of a fair judicial system. By refusing to act on President Obama’s nominee, the Senate has inhibited the delivery of justice.

Check out the RAC’s page on Judicial Nominations for updates and more information.

Max Antman is 2016-2017 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Max is originally from Evanston, IL., where he is a member of Beth Emet the Free Synagogue. Max attended the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign.

Max Antman

Published: 12/15/2016