editorial cartoon

You ought to be free to love whomever you want, and you ought not be denied the same rights as others because you want to marry that person. It’s just common sense.

Yet this common sense proposition has only been backed by the force of law since 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued their decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. It’s yet another example of why our courts matter and why it is important that our United States Supreme Court have all nine justices.

Prior to this decision many states, including Wisconsin, explicitly denied same-sex couples equal rights. But in 2015 that changed. The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the equal protection and due process guaranteed Americans by the 14th Amendment to our Constitution meant that states could not prohibit same sex couples from marrying.

That means that no longer are loving couples in committed relationships being denied basic rights and the dignity that comes with being treated equally before the law. After the Obergefell decision people can now stand with their loved one before their community and have their partnership officially recognized. Allowing same-sex couples to marry impacts their day-to-day lives in important ways like sharing health insurance, having visitation rights in hospitals, raising children together, accessing family medical leave benefits and even filing joint tax returns.

But right now, because of the unprecedented obstructionism and partisan political power play in Washington, D.C., by Senate Republicans, including Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, the court could be unable to act in future cases to extend equality to all Americans and protect our rights.

President Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court is being denied a fair hearing and timely vote. This refusal of a cabal of partisan senators, including Ron Johnson, to do their jobs means the open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court could sit vacant for more than a year and span two Supreme Court terms. And that could prevent rulings on key issues and imperil the ability of people to appeal to our federal courts to protect their basic rights and dignity.

This would also be the first time our nation’s high court could be so damaged in modern history. In fact we have never had to wait longer than 125 days for a Supreme Court nominee to be confirmed; nominees have waited an average of 67 days to confirmation. Yet it has been over 100 days since the president fulfilled his constitutional duty and nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the court vacancy.

Even more disturbing, this is not the only federal court vacancy caused by GOP partisan obstructionism. The federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Wisconsin, continues to suffer the longest vacancy in the nation. For over 2,400 days Johnson has been the driving force in keeping the vacancy from being filled. Since his election, Johnson has stood in the way of a nomination and today it may be too late for the nominee to receive a fair vote.

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The Obergefell decision shows how important it is that senators like Ron Johnson do their jobs so that our courts can do theirs. It would be a travesty of justice if people are denied their rights under our Constitution because of partisan political power plays.

Megin McDonell is executive director of Fair Wisconsin, an advocacy group working to protect and advance the civil rights of LGBT people. Jenni Dye is research director of One Wisconsin Institute. Both organizations work with the Why Courts Matter Coalition, which raises awareness on the federal judicial vacancy crisis.

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