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Gov. Maggie Hassan: U.S. Senate needs to stop playing politics

By Gov. Maggie Hassan
February 21. 2016 12:06AM

GOV. MAGGIE HASSAN 

ONE OF THE most important constitutional duties that the Senate is entrusted with is that of advice and consent following the nomination of a Supreme Court justice.

Unfortunately, Washington's dysfunction is now derailing this critical process, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte is a part of the problem. Ayotte has chosen to join with her party leadership in abdicating their constitutional duties instead of ensuring that hard-working Granite Staters and Americans can promptly get the justice they are due from the courts.

While citizens across the country were sending our condolences to Justice Scalia's family, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was vowing to ignore the Senate's constitutional duty to advise and consent by refusing to even consider a Supreme Court nominee until after the election.

This obstructionist approach differs from the path we've seen before, where nominees have experienced a timely, fair, and robust debate over their qualifications.

When considering the nomination of Justice Elena Kagan, former New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg said, “I believe that the confirmation process should be based on qualifications, not ideological litmus tests or political affiliation.” And Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said of the current court vacancy, “Our role in the Senate is to evaluate the nominee's temperament, intellect, experience, integrity and respect for the Constitution and the rule of law.”

However, Sen. Ayotte instead decided to join the likes of Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in putting her far-right base before our country and constitution. It's not that Sen. Ayotte and her Republican colleagues disagree with a specific nominee. Rather, they are outright refusing to consider anyone, regardless of the merits.

The people of New Hampshire work together to solve problems every day, and they expect the same from their elected leaders. That is why Sen. Ayotte's decision to follow the path of obstruction is so troubling. She should not put her party ahead of our justice system.

As governor, one of my responsibilities is to appoint judges who will protect the rights of all Granite Staters and ensure justice in our state. In selecting nominees for these positions, I rely on my bipartisan Judicial Selection Commission to evaluate candidates closely based on their experience, character, and temperament. And then I work with members of both parties on the Executive Council to move forward with these nominations. By working together across party lines in New Hampshire, we are able to confirm highly-qualified judges to the bench, and we need Washington to take the same approach.

Sen. Ayotte and her party leaders need to take a step back and stop simply trying to obstruct. Instead they should work to find a way to move forward that will ensure a fully functioning Supreme Court. If the Senate works together with the President to reach consensus, I'm confident that a candidate who is able to bridge the partisan divide can be identified and confirmed.

This year, the Supreme Court will weigh in on issues that are of critical importance to families across the country, reviewing cases that deal with women's reproductive freedom, workers' rights, and voting rights. If a short-staffed Court deadlocks in 4-4 decisions, countless Americans could be left waiting for justice simply because the Senate refuses to carry out its constitutional duty.

Sen. Ayotte this week said, “If there are cases in which they are divided they will decide them on narrow grounds and basically leave them for another day.'' But Granite Staters know that's not leadership, it's dysfunction.

As is often said, justice delayed is justice denied. A stalled Supreme Court will not move our country forward; it will only exacerbate the deep political divide and gridlock in Washington.

There is no clause in the Constitution that says the President and the Senate should stop doing their jobs in an election year. Instead of telling Americans waiting for justice to wait another day, Sen. Ayotte and her Republican colleagues should put politics aside, fulfill their constitutional duties, and do the jobs the people elected them to do.

Gov. Maggie Hassan is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.


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