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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Senate Honor for Scalia Gets Unanimous Vote

WASHINGTON (CN) - As the fight to fill his Supreme Court seat rages, the Senate honored Justice Antonin Scalia with a resolution Thursday that commends his career, offes condolences to his family and recognizes him as "one of the great justices of the Supreme Court of the United States."

The 93-0 vote was a fleeting moment of bipartisanship at a time when a bitterly partisan debate over how and when to nominate Scalia has consumed lawmakers since the justice's death on Feb. 13. Republicans have dug in and vowed not to even hold hearings or meet with any nominee President Barack Obama sends them, while Democrats have repeatedly hit their colleagues for their recalcitrance.

"By refusing to even sit and talk with any nominee, they make a mockery of the office to which the American people elected them," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a floor speech Thursday. "Think about this: Republicans won't do their due diligence by speaking with the nominee to assess his or her qualifications. Meeting with the nominee is basic. Holding a hearing is routine. These things are common sense. So why won't Republican senators make an effort in upholding their constitutional responsibilities?"

Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders, the three senators still in the presidential race that could grant them the right to replace Scalia, all missed Thursday's vote on the resolution.

Republicans claim the person who wins the presidential election to be held this fall should earn the privilege of replacing Scalia on the now-split high court.

In support of that position, a series of quotations from Democrats in past years have been paraded through the Capitol.

In one from 1992 that's proven particularly useful on this end, unearthed from C-SPAN archives earlier this week, Vice President Joseph Biden advocates for the president to consider avoiding nominating a replacement in the hypothetical event a Supreme Court justice vacated their seat before that year's presidential election.

"The Senate too, Mr. President, must consider how it would respond to a Supreme Court vacancy that would occur in the full throes of an election year," Biden, then a senator for Delaware, said on the Senate floor. "It is my view that if the president goes the way of Presidents Fillmore and Johnson and presses an election year nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until ever - until after the political campaign season is over."

Republicans have leapt at Biden's newly relevant comments, referring to them as the Biden Rules and using them to argue that Democrats would behave similarly if they were in such circumstances.

"But I would change under one qualification: If Schumer could pass a lie-detector that he would not do what we're doing if the shoe was on the other foot, I might change," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said ahead of today's vote, referring to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

Two hours earlier, Senate Democrats stood in front of the Supreme Court building and urged their Republican colleagues to back down from what they characterized as a historic example of obstruction.

"You know, I've served in the Senate longer than anybody who's here," Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., said at the press conference, according to a video of the event. "I have never once, never once, whether the Democrats have been in control, or the Republicans, whether there is a Democratic president or a Republican president, seen this total abrogation of their duties."

Just before the vote on the Scalia resolution, news broke that Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval had taken his name out of consideration for the vacant seat. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the White House was vetting Sandoval as a potential replacement, possibly in an effort to break the Republican blockade.

It is unclear if such a tactic would have work, however, as Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters earlier this week the GOP's stance on the nomination is "not about the personality, it's about the principle."

While the Supreme Court battle figures to dominate the foreseeable future for the Senate, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle hoped to be able to move forward with legislation on other matters, even with both sides dug in on a nominee.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., told reporters Tuesday he is optimistic a deal for aid to Flint, Mich. could pass next week, saying Republican senators seemed open to a newly struck aid package.

"Hopefully we'll just move forward and do our Constitutional job of holding hearings and having a vote," Peters added.

Cornyn also took to the Senate floor Thursday in a bid to have lawmakers put aside their differences on the nomination to consider legislation on opioid addiction.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture on the legislation Thursday afternoon. "This is a matter of disagreement," Cornyn said in a floor speech. "There is no question about it. But it doesn't mean that just because we are divided along party lines on this matter, that there's other things we can't do together. I think our friends across the aisle would agree that there is a lot of important work that we can, and should, do together."

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