I have a very simple message for Senate Republicans: Do your jobs, and allow me to do mine.
I was elected by the voters in Washington state to be their voice, but I can't do that if Republicans refuse to allow the Senate to perform one of our most important Constitutional responsibilities: carefully evaluating and voting on whether to confirm justices of the Supreme Court.
When I talk to people across Washington state, they tell me they are frustrated with the partisanship and dysfunction in Congress. Democrat, Republican, independent: They say they want their government to work for them and their families, and they want Congress to help make that happen. I couldn't agree more.
I know we can make progress when we work together, and I am particularly proud of the work I've done to do to break through the gridlock with the bipartisan budget deal I struck with now-Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and the bipartisan law I wrote with Republicans that finally fixed the broken No Child Left Behind law. But unfortunately, instead of working with us to build on that bipartisan work, the Republicans who control Congress have now taken the dysfunction to a whole new level and are spreading it beyond Congress and into our nation's highest court.
Just hours after the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Republican leaders made it clear that they had no intention to even consider filling the vacancy. They immediately decided that they were going to put petty partisan politics above our Constitution, our country, and their responsibilities as United States senators — and that they would hobble the Supreme Court for a year or more in the hopes that a Republican is elected President. That is absolutely wrong, and I hope they reconsider.
The Constitution could not be clearer. Article II, Section 2 states: “[the President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint ... Judges of the Supreme Court.”
The Constitution doesn't say “shall nominate only in his first three years.” It doesn't say “shall nominate unless the Senate doesn't feel like working that year.” It says he “shall nominate,” then it is up to the Senate to ultimately help make sure that vacancy is filled with a qualified person.
To be very clear: Republicans aren't objecting to a person. They are objecting to the very idea that this president should be allowed to nominate anyone. Now they are saying they won't even hold hearings, no matter how qualified a nominee is. And some of them are saying they would refuse to even meet with one!
So how are Republican leaders defending this? Well, they are saying that we should wait until voters weigh in this November. But voters have weighed in. They elected President Obama and entrusted him with the powers and responsibilities granted by the Constitution for four full years — not just three.
Republicans also say there is precedent to stall on Supreme Court nominations in the last year of a president's term, but that is just not true. A Democratic Senate unanimously confirmed Justice Kennedy in President Reagan's last year in office.
So I am truly hoping that Republican leaders reverse course on this. The Supreme Court plays such an important role in protecting the rights, liberties and responsibilities of all Americans from women's health and rights, to workers' rights, the environment, campaign finance and more. But in order to function for our families, the court shouldn't have vacancies and potential deadlocks at every turn.
I'm not arguing for Republicans to simply rubber stamp anyone the president sends us — of course not. I know I will personally be evaluating any nominee using my long-held standards: Are they qualified? Are they honest, ethical, and fair? Will they be independent and even-handed? And will they uphold our rights and our liberties, including the critical right to privacy? I would like to ask those questions of a nominee on behalf of Washington state families, but I can't do that unless Republicans let us act.
Making sure Washington state families have a voice on issues like these is what drove me to run for the United States Senate. Back in 1991, so many of us watched the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings on television, and we were frustrated. We couldn't believe that he wasn't pushed on the issues we cared about most, and we didn't think that the members of that committee represented the full spectrum of perspectives in our communities. So I ran for office to be a voice for families like mine, and I have worked hard to make sure Washington state families have a seat at the table in the debate over nominees for the highest court in the land.
I consider that to be our job as United States senators, and I am hoping that Republican leaders will put politics aside and let us do it.