Prominent MA Senators Clash on Resolution Dealing with Top Court Vacancy

[author: John Hahesy]

A mini-debate in the Massachusetts Senate yesterday afternoon over a resolution concerning the nomination of a U.S. Supreme Court justice revealed an intriguing difference of opinion on the requirements of bipartisanship. 

Ken Donnelly, the Arlington Democrat who serves as Assistant Majority Whip, introduced a resolution calling upon the U.S. Senate to act swiftly on the nomination of a Supreme Court justice to replace Antonin Scalia, who died in his sleep Feb. 13 while on a trip to Texas.

Donnelly described the measure as “a simple ask and an important resolution.” It states, in part:

“Whereas there are several examples in history where a judge has been successfully nominated, confirmed and appointed to the Supreme Court in the year preceding a presidential election, including Justice Anthony Kennedy by President Reagan, Justice Benjamin Cardozo by President Hoover and Justice Louis Brandeis by President Wilson, and

“Whereas, in the event of a vacancy on the Supreme Court, failing to timely nominate, consider and confirm the next justice for partisan political reasons would undermine the plain meaning and intent of the Constitution and be a profound disservice to the American people, now therefore be it

“Resolved that the members of the Massachusetts Senate respectfully urge the members of the United States Senate to swiftly and diligently fulfill their constitutional responsibility by granting a fair hearing and a timely vote to the President’s next nominee to the Supreme Court.”

You will recall that the Republican majority in control of the U.S. Senate has said they will not even meet with President Obama’s next Supreme Court nominee, never mind hold hearings or vote on that person.

Donnelly contrasted the endless partisan warfare and cynicism within the U.S. Senate to the normal fair play and comity in the Massachusetts Senate.  Said he, “When we have 34 Democrats in this branch and five Republicans, we make sure the Republicans have a say. To have it happen in Washington, D.C., that the Republicans don’t let the Democrats have a voice is hypocritical.”  [Note: All quotations in this post have been excerpted from a State House News Service account of the Senate session of Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016.]

Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester was quick to disagree.  “This invitation, this resolution,” he declared, “is an invitation to the hounds of partisanship to enter this chamber, to consume our thoughts, to consume our debate, at a time when the issues are pressing and critical.”

Donnelly said, “I believe it is important to make sure that our citizens, the 160,000 people that I represent (in the Fourth Middlesex District), believe in the political system.  For the many people in my district that spent weeks and months and in some cases years going all across this country to elect the President of the United States and have a vote, I feel insulted that the people down in Washington could say the people should decide.  They have decided.  They decided in the election (of 2012) who should be President until January, 2017.  To say otherwise is insulting.  To say our president is a lame duck is a terrible message to send across the world.”

Tarr said, “If we go down the path of this resolution, then I would suspect that, using the logic of the gentleman (Donnelly), we have an obligation to file resolutions every day to express frustration with the inaction of the President and Congress.  We don’t yet have a state budget in place and have not yet lifted the cap on net metering and have not addressed ourselves to the things we want to do with regard to the opioid crisis.

“If we want to say that our time will be consumed by things of a national scale that we are all interested in, we have the ability to take the direction and the focus of the (Massachusetts) Senate away from what we have done thus far and become a proxy for the United States Congress.

“As much as I understand the frustration and concern of many of us on this one issue, I wonder how many other appointments have not been acted on (in Washington).  Are we going to debate those?”

Tarr moved that Donnelly’s resolution be tabled, and it was.  Senate President Stan Rosenberg then announced the resolution would be brought up at the Senate’s next formal session, which will likely be held on Wednesday, March 3.

We can only hope that the next discussion on this issue will be as lively as the first. Invitations to the hounds of partisanship and terrible messages, indeed!