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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Senate should hold judicial hearing

When asked whether the U.S. Senate should hold nomination hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers replied in a written statement, “Any Supreme Court confirmation shouldn’t be done flippantly; it needs to be a thoughtful process, with full respect for the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution.”

She went on to say, “That’s why I stand by the Senate in their decision on how to move forward with the confirmation process.”

This “forward” motion is a refusal to budge. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made that declaration shortly after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and before the identity of President Barack Obama’s selection was known.

There’s nothing thoughtful about that. It’s especially embarrassing, because Judge Garland was the recipient of accolades from conservatives when nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Obama could’ve named someone younger and more liberal. At age 63, he’s the second-oldest nominee.

Garland is probably the best nominee Republicans could’ve hoped for from a Democrat.

McMorris Rodgers wasn’t alone in trying to cover blatant partisanship with high-minded-sounding rhetoric.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said, “The next Supreme Court justice will make decisions that affect every American and shape our nation’s legal landscape for decades.”

That’s always the case.

He went on to say, “Therefore, the current Supreme Court vacancy should be filled by an individual nominated by the next president of the United States.”

The next member of the court is apt to outlive the terms of several presidents, so skipping the current one, for the first time ever, makes no sense. Are there other tasks presidents should forgo in the final year of service? Where in the Constitution is that delineated?

We understand that Republicans are frustrated with the timing. They probably imagined the infirm Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be the next departure, and if Obama replaced her, there would be no net change on the court philosophically. But Scalia was the favorite jurist of many conservatives, and the thought of future 5-4 votes tipping left instead of right is galling.

Obama hasn’t been the easiest president to work with, but that’s still no excuse for the Senate to skip one of its more important duties.

There simply is no principle on which to hang an argument that a yet-elected president should be handed the task. If the situation were reversed, Republicans wouldn’t be complaining.

With nearly 300 days left in the current term, there is plenty of time. The nomination-to-confirmation process for Elena Kagan, the newest member of the court, took 87 days. The controversial process involving Clarence Thomas took 99 days.

If Garland is deemed unworthy, vote him down. That’s how the process has always worked. Changing it now would set an irresponsible precedent.

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