We rely on our courts to resolve disputes between the branches of our government, to interpret the law and to protect our rights. For the courts to do this job, they must have judges.
By refusing to do their job and act on nominees to fill vacancies on the federal court, Sen. Ron Johnson and his fellow Republicans who control the U.S. Senate are hurting the judicial system and undermining our democracy.
Wisconsin’s voter ID law provides a vivid example of the real life consequences of the unprecedented obstructionism of Washington D.C. Republicans such as Johnson, R-Oshkosh. The ID measure, which Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman said is intended to give the GOP a partisan electoral advantage in Wisconsin, was challenged in federal court after its passage in 2011.
In a lawsuit, plaintiffs argued voter ID created an impermissible burden on the right to vote for legal voters lacking an acceptable ID and that it would have a discriminatory impact. A federal judge in Wisconsin agreed, noting in his decision that the state’s failure to provide a single example of in-person voter impersonation, the only crime a voter ID law could prevent, undermined the claim it was necessary to prevent fraud. In addition the judge agreed the law would unfairly burden older, minority and lower income voters.
After the decision striking down the law, the state appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. This court has suffered the longest judicial vacancy in the nation, in large part because Sen. Johnson refused to allow consideration of the nomination made by President Barack Obama in 2009.
A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit reversed the lower court. But when the plaintiffs requested, as they were entitled, a review before all the judges of the circuit, the court deadlocked.
The Seventh Circuit judge who wrote a previous ruling upholding the Indiana voter ID law called it a serious mistake. But because of the obstruction of Sen. Johnson, the court was left without an 11th member who could have broken the impasse.
A voter ID requirement was allowed to be enforced not because the full Seventh Circuit determined it did not disenfranchise legal voters. Instead, a law passed with the admitted purpose of providing political gain for political party and with demonstrable negative effects on legal voters was allowed to stand because the understaffed court could not break a tie on whether to rehear the case.
Johnson has now moved his obstruction of nominees from our Seventh Circuit to the U.S. Supreme Court. Johnson and his fellow Republicans’ inaction and refusal to do their jobs is an unprecedented power grab and an affront to their duty to abide by the U.S. Constitution. The result of not doing their job is that American citizens are having their voices taken away.
Over 65 million Americans voted for President Obama in 2012, granting him a four-year term of office. But Johnson and the Republicans’ are trying to silence these voices by not giving the judicial nominees of the president the American people elected fair hearings or timely votes. And their obstruction means hundreds of thousands of legal voters in Wisconsin are being unduly burdened or outright prevented from being able to make their voice heard in elections.
It’s time for Sen. Johnson to stop this unprecedented partisan obstruction and to start doing his job.