Political Blunder-Judicial Crisis

While the U.S. Presidential race gets most of the media attention, one of the biggest political blunders of 2016, and perhaps one of the most historic mistakes ever made by the U.S. Senate appears to have fallen off the radar. Earlier this week U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) returned to her hometown to give a talk to the American Constitution Society’s kick-off event for its new Madison Chapter, in which she presented her concerns about the Senate Republican majority’s decision to refuse to fulfill its Constitutional duty to give advice and consent on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the now 7 month old vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced before President Obama nominated Judge Garland that the Senate would neither hold hearings nor vote on any nomination made by the President to fill the vacant seat. His excuse was premised on the argument that the next President should choose the next Supreme Court Justice. Beyond the abdication of the Senate’s Constitutional duty under Article II to provide advice and consent to judicial nominations, McConnell’s blunder was apparently based on the likely mistaken assumption that a Republican would win the Presidential election and the Senate majority would remain with the Republicans. However, it was McConnell’s very blunder that exacerbated the likelihood that neither plan would come to fruition and that the next Supreme Court Justice will likely be nominated by Hillary Clinton and confirmed by a Democratic Senate majority. If that scenario comes true, while the Republicans could have declared a small victory with President Obama’s nomination of the very moderate Judge Garland, Hillary Clinton will be free to nominate a far more progressive Supreme Court justice instead.

It is important to note that McConnell’s political blunder would never have been sanctioned by our founding fathers. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist Papers No. 76, by vesting the appointment power in the President, rather than Congress, the founders sought to avoid having appointments determined by,

the private and party likings and dislikes, partialities and antipathies, attachments and animosities, which are felt by those who compose the assembly.

He went on to say that in assigning the Senate the more limited role of advice and consent to presidential nominations, the founders believed that it was,

not likely that [the Senate’s] sanction would often be refused, where there were not special and strong reasons for the refusal. [Those] special and strong reasons [included] the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment or from a view to popularity.

Of course, none of these reasons apply to the highly respected Judge Garland, and it is worth noting that Sen. McConnell made clear that it did not matter whom President Obama nominated. The Republican obstruction would be total and complete regardless of the merits of the nomination.

Sen. Baldwin pointed out that the Republican obstruction of President Obama’s judicial appointments goes much further than one crucial nomination to the Supreme Court. Close to home, she pointed out that President Obama’s nomination of Don Schott to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has also been obstructed despite being vacant since January 2010. As of now, 77 of 673 U.S. District Court judgeships (11%) are vacant, twice as many as under President George W. Bush at this point in his presidency and 50% more than under President Clinton and President George H.W. Bush at the same point in their presidencies.

As this chart points out, the  Senate Republican obstruction of President Obama’s appointments is extreme and unprecedented.

Number of Judicial Confirmations During Final 2 Years in Office

  • President Ronald Reagan: 85
  • President George H.W. Bush: 122
  • President Bill Clinton: 73
  • President George W. Bush: 68
  • President Brach Obama: 20

In Chief Justice Roberts 2010 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, he made clear that,

a persistent problem has developed in the process of filling judicial vacancies…This has created acute difficulties for some judicial districts. Sitting judges in those districts have been burdened with extraordinary caseloads….[There is] an urgent need for the political branches to find a long-term solution to this recurring problem.

A tie vote on the Supreme Court means the lower court decision is upheld and is a monumental waste of time and money for the parties attorneys and Supreme Court justices. Important issues such as public unions and immigration have been stalled due to tie votes due the Senate Republican refusal to fill the empty seat and more ties may occur in the current October session of the Supreme Court.

History will be the ultimate judge, but thus far, it appears that Senator McConnell and his Republican Senate colleagues may have made one of the biggest political blunders in history, and in the mean time denied justice to thousands of Americans waiting for their day in court.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.


Is the Tea Party really Advocating Anarchy?

While nobody in the Tea Party is likely to admit that their goal is anarchy, it is worth taking a closer look at the meaning of anarchy and the goals of those who wish to force a government shut down.  The dictionary definition of anarchy is:

absence of government.

It is not surprising then, that the next definition given by Merriam-Webster is:

a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority.

Grover Norquist has been actively involved in promoting the Tea Party and believes that it should serves as the “exoskeleton” that protects newly elected Republicans against the pressures bound to be imposed on newly elected officials by “the spending interests.”  His most famous quote is that:

Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.

The irony of this radical position advocating what amounts to anarchy, is that both Grover Norquist and every single Tea Party member enjoy the fruits of government on a daily basis.  They drive on government built and maintained roads.  They call the police and fire department and expect prompt service when necessary.  They collect Social Security and Medicare when they retire.  They expect our military to defend our nation when called upon.

So, if the Tea Party and Grover Norquist are not really advocating for anarchy, why does the Republican led U.S. House of Representatives pass a Continuing Budget Resolution that it knows will result in a government shut down?  Why does Senator Ted Cruz make a mockery of the Senate by engaging in a fruitless filibuster, including reading Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, that even his own party’s Senate leadership disavows?

The clear hypocrisy of Norquist and Cruz and their minions can only mean one thing.  What  they really want is the power to control where government spends its money.  The best example of this is the Tea Party’s advocacy for private school vouchers.  This advocacy does not really shrink government spending.  It just shifts it to private interests who are free to discriminate against children with disabilities, as I wrote about previously.

In fact, the Tea Party’s blog says quite clearly,

Because Freedom isn’t Free.

So, House Republicans and Senator Cruz, get off your high horses and stop advocating anarchy, because as the Tea Party states quite clearly: Freedom isn’t free.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Is it Time for an Independent Run for US Senate in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin is now considered the most politically polarized state in the country.

Gov. Scott Walker’s approval rating from Republican voters was 92% in a Wisconsin survey last month by Public Policy Polling.

His approval rating from Democratic voters was 9%.

Invert those two numbers and you get something very close to President Barack Obama’s ratings in Wisconsin: 93% approval from Democrats, 4% approval from Republicans.

In both cases, the partisan divide is bigger than anything Public Policy Polling has recorded for governor and president in the 40-plus states where it has polled since 2011.

To date, there are no candidates who have announced a challenge to Gov. Scott Walker, who is up for re-election in November, 2014.  That is not terribly surprising given his convincing victory in last year’s recall election and the daunting task of raising enough money to run an effective campaign against him.

However, Senator Ron Johnson does not have the popularity that Gov. Walker enjoys.  The most recent Marquette Law School poll shows Senator Johnson with a mere 30% approval rating, leading the state’s largest newspaper to opine that he will have a tough re-election campaign in 2016.  There are many reasons for his low rating, but certainly one of them is that he is considered the second most conservative Senator in the US Senate.  Given that Wisconsin just elected the very liberal Tammy Baldwin to the US Senate, that certainly does not bode well for Senator Johnson.

Given Sen. Johnson’s lack of popularity in his own state, it is quite surprising that there have been no official announcements of any Democratic candidates who plan to run against him.  This could be a symptom of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s dysfunction given that it is poised to re-elect its party chair despite its failure to recall Gov. Walker and continuing losses in the state legislature giving Republicans majorities in both houses for two terms in a row (other than a brief lame duck period when the Democrats held a majority in the Senate due to  recalls, which they gave up in November, 2012).

The combined factors of Sen. Johnson’s extreme conservative views, lack of popularity in his home state, and a dysfunctional Democratic party in Wisconsin beg the question of whether an independent candidate could gain the next US Senate seat in Wisconsin.  Needless to say, given that the 2012 US Senate race in Wisconsin was the 7th most expensive race in the country with over $35 million spent in that race, raising sufficient funds without the benefit of party machinery in the era of Citizens United is certainly daunting.

But can it be done?

It has been done elsewhere, and in fact, the November 2012 election saw 2 US Senators win as Independents.  Bernie Sanders was re-elected as an Independent in Vermont, which isn’t terribly surprising given that he held the US House seat in Vermont since 1991.

Perhaps more important was the victory of Independent Angus King in Maine, who is now the first Independent Senator from Maine in a state where the previous Senator was Republican Olympia Snowe.

Ultimately, whether an Independent can win a US Senate seat in Wisconsin in 2016, depends on 3 critical factors:

  • The popularity of the eventual Democratic candidate;
  • The popularity of the Independent candidate; and
  • The ability of the Independent candidate to raise sufficient funds.

Since we are now living in an era where extremely wealthy people like Michael Bloomberg and George Soros can pour millions into such an Independent campaign, such a decision by influential wealthy donors could create a dynamic to make Wisconsin the state to seat a 3rd Independent candidate in the U.S. Senate in 2016.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.