U.S. Senate candidates split on Supreme Court nomination debate

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Feb 18, 2016 4:22 AM

Photo by AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's courtroom chair is draped in black to mark his death as part of a tradition that dates to the 19th century, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, at the Supreme Court in Washington.

(Harrisburg) -- How should the U.S. Senate handle President Obama's plan to nominate someone for the U.S. Supreme Court after Justice Antonin Scalia's death?

All three Democrats running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania - John Fetterman, Katie McGinty, and Joe Sestak - say the Senate should at the least, vote on any Supreme Court nominee President Obama puts forward.

Sestak, notably, called for a nominee who isn't an Ivy League graduate.

Meanwhile, in a statement earlier this week, McGinty called it unprecedented for a Supreme Court seat to remain vacant for a year.

But records show starting a seat has gone unfilled for more than a year, starting in May 1969 after the Senate rejected two nominees.

When pressed, McGinty says she wanted to emphasize that the Senate should take action.

"It will be unprecedented for senators to simply declare that they refuse to do the role and responsibility that the United States constitution charges them with executing," she says.

McGinty's campaign spokeswoman later said the statement was misworded.

Going on, McGinty says, "This would be rigid partisanship and dragging that partisanship into an institution that needs to be above politics, and that is the Supreme Court of the United States."

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey says President Obama should wait until a new president takes office, arguing there's no precedent for a nomination in an election year.

But a Morning Call report also finds no evidence to back up his claim.

The full statements from the candidates are below:

Pat Toomey: 

"I have long stated my belief that objective qualifications and adherence to the rule of law should matter more than ideology when it comes to judicial appointments. I have acted accordingly, working closely with Senator Bob Casey on filling 16 vacancies on the federal bench in Pennsylvania and supporting numerous appointments by President Obama, including his appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

"The current vacancy on the Supreme Court, following the tragic death of Justice Antonin Scalia, however, presents an unusual context. In the final year of a presidency, it is common for vacancies that arise on the Supreme Court to await the outcome of the next election. Given that we are already well into the presidential election process and that the Supreme Court appointment is for a lifetime, it makes sense to give the American people a more direct say in this critical decision. The next Court appointment should be made by the newly-elected president. If that new president is not a member of my party, I will take the same objective non-partisan approach to that nominee as I have always done.
"President Obama insists that he will nominate someone for the Court. He certainly has the authority to do so. But let's be clear - his nominee will be rejected by the Senate. In addition to the normally high level of scrutiny accorded to a Supreme Court nominee, this nominee would have to pass an additional level of scrutiny, which is the question of whether he or she ought to receive a lifetime appointment this year, when one could be made with a broad public stamp of approval less than a year later. That is a standard no nominee is likely to be able to meet.

"It has been less than 72 hours since Justice Scalia's passing. There has already been too much politicking around the issue of his replacement. This decision should not be rushed, and it should not be made amid the clamoring of a presidential election season. We should honor Justice Scalia's legacy, and we should put off a decision on his replacement until the newly-elected president can make his or her choice."

John Fetterman: "Sen. Pat Toomey, who do you work for: the citizens of Pennsylvania or Ted Cruz and other extreme GOP obstructionists? The self-serving negligence we are seeing from the GOP is the reason why everyone hates Congress, and is simply disrespectful to the American people. So which is it, Sen. Toomey: will you do your job, or choose partisanship over patriotism?"

Katie McGinty: "It would be unprecedented and irresponsible to allow Justice Scalia's seat to sit vacant for a full year. Justice Scalia was known for his lifelong commitment to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. For Senate Republicans to put politics ahead of their Constitutional duty would be an insult to his legacy.

"Last year, we saw Senator Pat Toomey play politics with the nomination of Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo. So far, he has offered no evidence that he will honor the Senate's responsibility to maintain a full bench on the Supreme Court. I call on Senator Toomey to prove his commitment to the Constitution by standing up to Leader Mitch McConnell's partisan obstructionism."

Joe Sestak: "William Penn said that 'To delay Justice is Injustice.' It is time for Pat Toomey to fulfill his duty to the people of Pennsylvania and vow to quickly consider a new Supreme Court Justice rather than marching lockstep with partisan obstructionists in Washington, D.C.

With so many pressing issues before the Court like the Voting Rights Act, protecting women's right to choose, reversing Citizens' United and affirming the need to regulate polluters, the Senate must act swiftly to consider President Obama's eventual nominee to the court.

I also firmly believe that nominating a justice with a legal education outside the Ivy League - which no present Justice has - will bring a voice to the Court in tune with the diversity of experiences of the American people and give them all a stronger voice on the Court.

Finally, I hope that Justice Scalia's replacement will follow the model he set for maintaining positive, working relationships with his colleagues despite deep philosophical differences - which is all too lacking in both parties in Washington, D.C."

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