Unions demand that Senate consider Obama’s Supreme Court nominee

WASHINGTON – The Amalgamated Transit Union and the AFL-CIO are demanding the Republican-run U.S. Senate do its duty and hold confirmation hearings and a vote on whomever President Obama nominates to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whether the solons will listen is debatable. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., says Obama should leave the decision on who will replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia to the next president. But Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chair of the Judiciary Committee – which will hold the hearings – is less dogmatic. He’ll wait to see who Obama nominates.

Union leaders said McConnell can’t pick and choose which presidential election, including this year’s, determines when to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

“Sen. McConnell and the GOP presidential candidates are politicizing Scalia’s passing and disgracing our Constitution,” said ATU President Larry Hanley. “They have it backwards. The American people took a presidential vote in 2012 and McConnell and his cohorts can’t pick which election counts” when it comes to having a president pick High Court nominees.

“Working people will not tolerate their partisan attempt to nullify President Obama’s constitutional right to appoint a successor to Justice Scalia. We will not let that stand. We call on the Senate to fulfill their constitutional responsibility and give Obama’s nominee a fair and timely hearing,” Hanley concluded.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka agreed. He called McConnell’s plan “appalling.”

He added “the Supreme Court is not a game and the Constitution is not a toy.

“Republican leaders in and out of the Senate must act as U.S. leaders, regardless of party affiliation. The American people do not want them to politicize such a vital responsibility. They want them to carry out their constitutional duty to their country,” he said.

Scalia, 79, died the weekend of Valentine’s Day. As the intellectual leader of the court’s conservative bloc, his death leaves the fate of a number of key cases up in the air.

One is Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, which justices heard in January. The case, brought by the virulently anti-worker anti-union right wing National Right to Work Committee – and nine dissident teachers it recruited – challenges public worker unions’ right to collect “agency fees” from non-members they represent. It’s the top labor case this year.

If the right wing wins Friedrichs, overturning more than 40 years of law, all state and local government bodies, from school boards on up, would become “right to work” fiefdoms and “free riders” – workers who take union services without paying for them – would proliferate. The court then seemed to be weighted 5-4 for Friedrichs, with Scalia in the five.

Besides the Scalia vacancy, Obama or his successor could nominate, and send to the Senate, other Supreme Court hopefuls. Three other justices are at least 77 years old.

Photo: Susan Walsh/AP


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.