While discussing the confirmation of judges, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, had a message for his fellow senators: “Let’s do our jobs.” But that was 2005.
Eleven years ago, with a Republican in the White House, Grassley was emphatic that the Senate act quickly on the president’s judicial nominations, telling colleagues that slowing down the confirmation process was “like being a bully on the schoolyard playground.”
According to Grassley in 2005, for the Senate to do its job, George W. Bush’s nominees would have to receive up-or-down votes. Today, apparently, doing his job as chairman of the Judiciary Committee does not even include holding hearings on President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland.
One wonders what 2005 Chuck Grassley would say to his 2016 self. In April of that year, during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Grassley told host Chris Matthews that “every nominee should have an opportunity to have an up-or-down vote.”
That same month in a statement on his website titled “Talking Judges to Death,” the Iowa senator wrote, “It’s time to make sure all judges receive a fair vote on the Senate floor.”
Grassley continued to make his case during a May speech on the Senate floor, telling his colleagues, “It’s high time to make sure all judges receive a fair up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.”
In the same speech, he complained that he and his colleagues were being “denied an opportunity to carry out their constitutional responsibility,” telling the Senate, “That is simply not right. The Constitution demands an up-or-down vote. Fairness demands an up-or-down vote.”
Grassley charged that Democrats wanted “to grind the judicial process to a halt for appellate court nominees so they can fill the bench with individuals who have been rubberstamped by leftwing extreme groups.”
In 2005 Democrats opposed a small number of nominees based on their extreme ideologies. In contrast, Grassley and today’s Republicans have made it clear that they will oppose anyone nominated by Obama, no matter their qualifications or ideology, essentially seeking to undo the 2012 presidential election.
Today the only rationale for Grassley’s own intransigence is fear of the far right and their demand that Republicans obstruct the president’s Supreme Court appointment.
Grassley’s advocacy for the Senate doing its job did not stop in the spring of 2005. In September of that year, after President Bush appointed John Roberts to the Supreme Court, Grassley cited Alexander Hamilton in claiming that “the purpose of our activities here of confirming people for the courts” was “to make sure that people who were not qualified did not get on the courts. In other words, only qualified people get appointed to the courts and that political hacks do not get appointed to the courts.”
He noted that “maybe there is some historian around who will say Grassley has it all wrong.”
In that same speech he stated that the president “had a mandate to appoint whom he wanted appointed, as long as they were not political hacks and as long as they were qualified” and that the president had “primacy in the appointments to the Supreme Court.”
In January 2006, with the appointment of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, Grassley put out a press release that once again cited Alexander Hamilton:
The Constitution provides that the President nominates a Supreme Court Justice, and the Senate provides its advice and consent, with an up or down vote. In Federalist 66, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “it will be the office of the President to nominate, and, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint. There will, of course, be no exertion of choice on the part of the Senate. They may defeat one choice of the Executive, and oblige him to make another; but they cannot themselves choose – they can only ratify or reject the choice he may have made.”
Citations of Hamilton, calls for the Senate to do its job, discussions of “constitutional responsibility” are now a faded memory.
If Chuck Grassley did recall his words from that year, perhaps he would remember his statement that “in my town meetings across Iowa, I hear from people all the time, why aren’t the judges being confirmed?” He went on to claim, “I hear from Iowans all the time that they want to see these nominees treated in a fair manner, and they want to see an up-or-down vote.”
Home for the Senate’s Easter recess, he is now facing these questions from constituents like Randy Waagmeester, who told his senator at a town hall, “It’s not fair for this man not to get a hearing.”
Another of Grassley’s constituents, Glenda Schrick, told her senator, “There’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution that says we can’t have a hearing and then vote yea or nay, so that we don’t constantly have it thrown at us as Republicans that all we say is ‘no.’”
However, these interactions will be few for the Iowa senator. According to the Des Moines Register “only three of his 19 planned events are publicly announced town hall meetings — and they’re happening in the three most heavily Republican counties in the state in terms of voter registration.”
Instead of running from these challenges, Grassley should simply follow his own admonition from more than a decade ago, come back to Washington, tell his Republican colleagues “let’s do our jobs” and get to work confirming Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.