March 3, 2016Dear Mr. Greenleaf:
Thank you for taking the time to contact me. As your Senator, it is important for me to hear from you.
I appreciate hearing your thoughts on the loss of Justice Antonin Scalia, as well as efforts to fill his seat on the Supreme Court of the United States. Iowans, as well as all Americans, are currently engaged in a serious discussion on this topic.
As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I take very seriously the advice of my predecessors, on the appropriateness for the Senate to withhold consent on any nominee to the Supreme Court, should the President not follow the example of his predecessors, such as President Lincoln, who abstained from making a nomination during a presidential election year until after the people voted. In 1992, while serving as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, then-Senator Joe Biden spoke on the Senate floor about the proper actions of the Senate in this very circumstance. My friend and colleague stated "Senate consideration of a nominee under these circumstances is not fair to the president, to the nominee, or to the Senate itself...Where the nation should be treated to a consideration of constitutional philosophy, all it will get in such circumstances is partisan bickering and political posturing from both parties and from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue."
I share the concerns of my friend Vice President Biden. We know that a nominee will not ultimately get confirmed, and because election season is well underway, no matter the qualifications of any potential nominee, the hyper-political environment would cause harm to the court, to the nominee, and to the nation.
It is important to remember that Congress is a coequal branch of government, and our founders sought to protect each branch of government from undue influence from either of the other two. In response to the current Administration's continuing efforts to use the Judicial branch in order to bypass Congress and undermine the process of representative government, the people made their voices heard in 2014 by revoking the previous majority in the Senate, and increasing the majority ranks in the House of Representatives.
The Senate's decision to express its constitutional right to withhold consent from a nominee until after the next President is sworn in will allow the nominee to receive fair consideration, as opposed to attempts from each party to promote its electoral agenda.
On March 1st, I met with President Obama at the White House to reiterate the Senate's position on this issue. We also took the opportunity to discuss many issues of mutual interest, such as the opioid epidemic that is devastating our country, criminal justice reform, and issues facing Puerto Rico.
I want to sincerely thank you again for sharing your views with me. I understand that many Americans, especially Iowans, feel passionately about this issue. Although there may be disagreements between people of good will, it is important for us to continue to have a respectful discussion. Please keep in touch.
An Open Letter in Reply
8 March 2016
Dear Senator Grassley,
Thank you for your timely response. I certainly agree that we should engage in a respectful discussion, but not, of course, at the expense of fully expressing our opinions on this vital subject.
In your letter, you referred to a statement on a nomination made by Vice-President Biden (then Senator Biden). The Vice-President addressed your reference in an article just before you wrote your letter to me. His statement puts a different light on the contentions that you make in your letter. But regardless of whether he is back-tracking (as some will no doubt allege), the point is moot to me. The Senate should perform its duties now regardless of what Senator Biden, Senator Obama, or what any other senator has done in the past when that position is wrong and based solely on party politics. When senators in the past have sought to block full and fair consideration of a nominee, they acted wrongly. My good, Iowa Republican parents taught me that just because someone else did something wrong, I didn't get the right to do so, too. I apply the same principle to you. (I don't know the specifics of Lincoln's decision, but I do want to remind you that we were in the midst of the Civil War and therefore not all of his precedents bear repeating.)
Your argument that the nomination will create partisan electoral posturing holds no water. The partisanship exists because of a long-term strategy followed Congressional Republicans. I know that you're up for election this year, so I can understand that any decision you make--even to consider a nominee--would prove unpopular with some voters, but after 40 years in Congress, you should be willing to perform your duties even in an election year. In fact, given your seniority, you should serve as the one who says "no" to the extreme partisanship that you anticipate any nomination would entail. I'm certain that you'll agree that the extreme partisanship we see in Congress today is much greater than what you experienced in the first 25 years of your congressional tenure. Isn't it time for someone to step up and work to dial down the extremism that's rampant in your party?
I still hope that you will change your mind, as I know I'm not the only Iowan who's disappointed with your intransigence on this matter.
Thank you for your consideration,