Letters: Senate Republicans wrong to deny Obama a chance to fill Scalia's seat

A VACANCY on the Supreme Court is not an opportunity to score political points; it is a call to duty. The Constitution states that "[The president] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the Supreme Court." The Constitution doesn't absolve either of their obligations in an election year, and the Senate has upheld this constitutional responsibility for the last century without exception. This year should be no different. This is not about choice or personal interest, it is about duty to our country.

While I often disagreed with his opinions, Justice Antonin Scalia was a scholar who dedicated his life to public service in our judicial system. Each Supreme Court justice plays a crucial role in deciding cases of often historic importance, from the future of health care to campaign finance to voting rights. The Framers of the Constitution understood that the court cannot function properly when it is down even one member, which is why any vacancy triggers a constitutional process to find a replacement.

As part of this process, the U.S. Senate now has one of its most fundamental jobs before it: to confirm a new Justice on the Supreme Court. A fully functioning Supreme Court is essential for our entire judicial system. Having only eight Justices for an extended period of time could create substantial legal confusion on key issues.

I have become increasingly concerned by calls from many Senate Republicans to deny any nominee, no matter their qualifications, a hearing and a vote until a new president takes office in 2017. Many have even said President Obama should not even bother to nominate a replacement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not even meet with a nominee. And every Republican member of the Judiciary Committee signed a letter stating that the Senate Judiciary Committee will not hold hearings on a nominee until Jan. 20, 2017.

This is not only a stunning abdication of responsibility, but also would have serious consequences for our nation and the future of the Supreme Court. With over 300 days left in Obama's term, any attempt to undermine the constitutional process to return the Supreme Court to fully operational status would be nakedly partisan. Since the 1980s every person nominated to the Supreme Court has been given a hearing and a vote within 100 days of nomination, and the process to fill this vacant seat should be no different.

In 1988, when Ronald Reagan was in his last year in office, a Senate with a Democratic majority confirmed Justice Anthony Kennedy. Then, senators recognized the plain fact that Reagan was duly elected president twice and should be able to carry out his duties until his term expired. The same is true for Obama. What we are witnessing from Senate Republicans is the tyranny of raw politics - a level of obstruction that is deeply misguided and bad for our country.

If we allow the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice to become nothing other than a cynically partisan exercise, just another chip in our coarsening and increasingly transactional political discourse, we will eventually erode the confidence the American people have in our justice system and in our political system.

Members of the Senate have a right to vote any way they choose on a nominee after examining his or her qualifications and record, but rejecting even the idea of any nominee out of hand is not in the best interest of our nation. There simply is no credible argument that our nation is somehow better off with a hamstrung Supreme Court for the next year. It's time for Senate Republicans to do their job.

Bob Casey

U.S. senator

Pennsylvania

Gay-bash conviction

The recent sentencing of Kathryn Knott in the infamous and well-publicized Philadelphia gay bashing incident has reinforced the truism that two wrongs do not make a right, no matter what the intentions are.

As guilty as this woman was for the actual conflict, and as foolish as she was for not taking the plea deal offered, she has become a "victim" herself of a "political trial" and the cancer of political correctness and pandering that now infects our society.

Knott took a fall for two men who obviously did more physical damage in the fight than she ever did. But the press does not care about that or the actual facts of the case.

Instead she became the recipient of the "Joe Paterno syndrome" of making a political example of her to pacify not justice, but rather those groups whose influence in society depends on their role as political symbols to those who are in and want to stay in power, and the court went right along with it.

The judge's offensive comments about the failure of the state Legislature to define hate crimes and her foolish insistence that Knott, immediately upon conviction, be handcuffed and led to jail as if she were a notorious serial killer further proves my point. Let's give her a fair trial and then we will hang her. Justice in this case is blind, but none are so blind as those who will not see.

Shameful, Philadelphia, shameful!

James Cunningham

Media, Pa.