What Washington can learn from New Hampshire

In the Granite State, the law says all state judicial nominees must receive a public hearing


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It’s been more than 50 days since President Obama fulfilled his constitutional responsibility and brought forward his nominee to the Supreme Court, Chief Judge Merrick Garland. He has been widely acclaimed as a jurist by people from all political perspectives.

Unfortunately, unlike the case of late Justice Scalia, who received his first hearing in 42 days, Senate Republicans have made it clear that there will never be a hearing to occur at all for Supreme Court nominee Garland.

While it would be an unprecedented action for the Senate to ignore its constitutional responsibilities to advise and consent, you might not know that here in New Hampshire, such obstruction would be against state law.

In fact, when I was a New Hampshire state senator, my colleagues, both Republican and Democratic, enacted a bill I co-sponsored that required all state judicial nominees receive a public hearing. It has served our state well.

One critical job of the U.S. Senate is to “advise and consent” on a Supreme Court nominee, and that has typically included a hearing and a vote. Instead of continuing to obstruct, the Senate Republican leadership should give Chief Judge Garland a hearing and a vote. Americans overwhelmingly support having a vote on President Obama’s excellent nomination and see this obstruction as obvious political posturing.

Republican senators who have met with Judge Garland have found him as qualified and one even said she was “more convinced than ever” that he deserves a hearing. The constitution doesn’t make exceptions for election years, and neither should Senate Republicans when it comes to doing their jobs.

Every Supreme Court nominee since 1875 has received a hearing or a vote. Declaring the last year of the president’s four-year term “off limits” for nominations disenfranchises the people who voted Obama into office by more than 5 million votes. It leaves important Supreme Court decisions without the ninth vote that often determines the outcome. There is no valid public policy behind this position nor is there any justification found for it in the Constitution.

While serving the people of New Hampshire on the Executive Council, I and all councilors took seriously the responsibility of vetting judicial nominations. Our belonging to a political party didn’t make any difference. We did our jobs. The hearings were important to ensure the public had the opportunity to vet a nominee’s qualifications and record. There were no political shenanigans. 

Debora B. Pignatelli of Nashua is a former state representative, senator and executive councilor.

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