Ohio Senate Race Reflects Supreme Court Clash
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The battle over the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia played out Tuesday in the race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Rob Portman.
Yesterday, as Senate Republicans again insisted they would not hold hearings for any nominee put forth by President Obama, Portman and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland clashed over the issue.
Strickland, a Democrat seeking his party’s nomination to challenge Portman this November, said during a media event downtown that the U.S. Constitution is “very clear” as to what needs to happen when such a vacancy occurs.
“The president shall make a nomination to that bench. The Senate is obligated to give its advice and consent,” he said.
Almost immediately after news of Scalia’s death became public, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate leaders said the president should not take action and they would wait until the presidential election “after the people have spoken.”
“The people have spoken. They elected Barack Obama to be the president of this county on two occasions,” Strickland argued. “The people of Ohio have a right to expect our senator, Senator Portman, to do his constitutional duty and start listening to the people of Ohio rather than listening to the Washington power brokers.
“This is the kind of action that I think causes so many people to feel as if Washington is just terribly, terribly broken.”
Republicans have seized on past opposition to nominations by both Obama, who conducted a filibuster of Associate Justice Samuel Alito, and Vice President Joe Biden, who in 1992 spoke against acting on a nomination during a presidential election year, as well as other Democrats.
“Two or three wrongs do not make a right,” Strickland said. “What we are dealing with now is the current circumstances and the obligation that exists on the sitting senators to take action.”
Portman, during a conference call Tuesday, reiterated his stance that it’s best for the country to put off considering a Supreme Court nomination until the next president is chosen.
“We’re in the middle of a contentious partisan election,” Portman said. He questioned whether a “lame-duck president” should make a “lifetime appointment.”
Delaying the process until after the next election, which would leave a vacancy on the court for more than a year – would be “very troubling,” Strickland said. “There are some very serious matters before the court right now dealing with redistricting issues, dealing with voting rights dealing with labor rights.”
The Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a letter to McConnell, said they would exercise their “constitutional authority to withhold consent on any nominee” submitted by Obama to fill the vacancy “ given the particular circumstances under which this vacancy arises.” Not since 1932 has the Senate confirmed in a presidential year a nominee to the high court to a vacancy arising that year, and not since 1888 has an election-year nominee been nominated under divided government.
“We intend to exercise the constitutional power granted the Senate under Article II, Section 2 to ensure the American people are not deprived of the opportunity to engage in a full and robust debate over the type of jurist they wish to decide some of the most critical issues of our time,” the GOP senators wrote.
The high court can work with fewer than the full complement of justices, as it has on the occasions when justices have recused themselves, Portman said.
“They’ve done it before. It doesn’t mean they stop working,” he said. In case of a tie, the decision of the lower court is upheld.
Two polls released Tuesday – include one specifically with implications for Portman — indicate public support for filling the vacancy.
A poll by the Pew Research Center showed a majority of Americans – 56% — believe the Senate should hold hearings and vote on the president’s choice to fill the vacancy, while 38% say the Senate should hold of until the next president selects a nominee. Among Republicans, 66% say the Senate shouldn’t hold hearings on Scalia’s replacement until the next president selects a nominee, while 79% of Democrats say the Senate should act on an Obama nominee.
During his news conference, Strickland cited another poll, by Public Policy Polling, which shows 58% of voters in Ohio and 57% in Pennsylvania think the court vacancy should be filled this year, while 35% in Ohio and 40% in Pennsylvania oppose acting on an Obama nominee. Independent voters in the two states – 70% in Ohio and 60% in Pennsylvania – say the seat should be filled this year.
Like Portman, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, faces reelection this year, and the PPP poll indicates warning signs for both. In each of the states, an identical 52% of voters say they are less likely to vote for Portman or Toomey if they refuse to confirm a replacement for Scalia regardless of who it is, while only 25% say such a stance makes them more likely to vote for them.
The poll also shows voters are unhappy with the GOP senators’ decision that they will not approve anyone even before knowing who Obama might put forward. A large majority of voters – 76% in Pennsylvania and 74% in Ohio – say the Senate should see who is nominated before deciding whether to confirm.
Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.