The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats’ latest Supreme Court tactic: No recess till confirmation

For three months, Senate Democrats have hammered their Republican counterparts over their refusal to take up President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Now House Democrats are looking to do some hammering of their own.

Six of them plan to introduce a House bill Wednesday aimed at pressuring Republicans in both houses on the Supreme Court issue. The “Senate’s Court Obligations Trump Unconstitutional Stalling,” or SCOTUS, resolution would force Congress to remain in session through the summer recess — and hence the national party conventions — if the Senate has not held hearings on a pending Supreme Court nomination by July 19.

That date will mark 125 days since Obama nominated U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick B. Garland to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia, which is the longest period a Supreme Court nominee has had to wait for a vote without first withdrawing. In 1916, nominee Louis Brandeis waited that long for his confirmation.

“We already have one dysfunctional branch of government right now, and I’m not going to sit idly by and watch the Senate try to create a second dysfunctional branch by hobbling the Supreme Court,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), the bill’s lead author and a former appellate lawyer. “My hope this bill will help raise not just public awareness, but really cause my colleagues in the Senate to think about our sworn duty to uphold the Constitution.”

Confirming judicial nominees is the constitutional responsibility of the Senate, not the House, and the debate has largely played out there. The House bill is unlikely to receive any formal consideration by the Republican majority, but it will give activists and House candidates a concrete proposal to rally behind.

Joining Esty in introducing the bill are the four House Democrats who are seeking Senate seats in November — Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, Rep. Patrick Murphy of Florida and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) is also co-introducing the bill.

“This is an institution they are looking to join, and they are looking closely at the responsibilities of that institution,” Esty said of the four Senate hopefuls. “If they become senators, I believe they will take that responsibility with them and understand that this is important to do.”

Van Hollen, who is seeking to succeed retiring Democrat Barbara Mikulski, said Tuesday that the bill is a “vehicle for action” that can help get House members engaged in the fight to get Garland confirmed.

“As time goes on, more constituents will be asking their members of Congress where they are on this issue, and this piece of legislation will be an opportunity for people to let voters know where they are,” he said. “We thought it was important to have an organizing vehicle and a piece of legislation to organize the debate and focus a spotlight on this issue.”

“The more we can focus attention and political pressure on this issue from all angles,” Van Hollen added, “the more we will highlight both the irresponsibility of the Senate’s failure to act and continue to keep this conversation going.”

Senate Democrats and the White House are both to making efforts keep the confirmation debate alive as Garland’s courtesy visits to senators garner diminishing public attention. The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday are holding a forum of legal experts, while the White House has invited a group of civics teachers from across the country to Washington to highlight the 62th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the need for a full Supreme court.

The mock acronym title of the “SCOTUS Resolution” manages to reference not only the high court, but also the name of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee at a time when Democrats have sought to highlight the peril of allowing Trump to choose Scalia’s replacement.

But, Esty said, the title was cooked up well before Trump secured the Republican nomination earlier this month and any reference is coincidental.

“It actually happens to be the right word here,” she said.