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Follow The Russ Feingold Model For Supreme Court Fight

February 17, 2016

A letter from the office of Senator Russ Feingold in 2001 continues to underscore the way our government is meant to function.  Over the past few days I have recalled the way the former senator viewed the process of governing and know there is a lesson we can learn from him as we move deeper into the political chaos following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

I had contacted the senator, like so many of my Democratic friends and fellow citizens, to ask him to vote against the nomination of John Ashcroft for the position of attorney general.

Several weeks later Feingold wrote a letter in response to explain why he had instead supported President Bush’s nominee in the confirmation process.   Barring any legitimate reasons such as legal, ethical, or being so far outside mainstream thinking which would demonstrate the nominee could not fulfill the duties of the office meant there was no course he could take than vote to confirm.

The lesson was clear. A liberal Democrat strongly felt compelled to confirm a strict conservative nominee to serve in the cabinet of a president who himself was only allowed to sit in the Oval Office with the vote of a divided Supreme Court.

Feingold felt elections had consequences and a president once placed in office had a right to shape policy and create the changes advocated for in the last campaign.

If that is not a lesson in how the process of government is supposed to work, even when it means biting your tongue and fighting your first instincts, than I am not sure what example could be offered to make the case.

Our nation is now facing one of the most tumultuous political moments that we are likely to experience in our lifetime.  (After all that we have seen over the years that is saying a great deal.)  We are in the midst of a presidential election where the train seems to have jettisoned off the tracks for both parties.  The mood of the electorate is surly and combative.  Add to that the death of a supreme court justice. It almost seems God is giving a modern-day Allen Drury a rough draft for a new novel!

If there was ever a time for statesmen from both parties to stand up and be counted as Americans instead of party regulars this would be the moment.

I will be the first to admit my gut reacted negatively to the vote cast by Feingold for the office of attorney general.  I was upset by the vote.  My political mood in early 2001 was in no mood for moving on and forgetting what had transpired over the weeks following the previous year’s general election.   But my head knew that Feingold was right.  Logic and reason are sometimes slow to triumph over our base emotions.   But are we not glad they do?

That very fact is why we need level-headed statesman to take a stand now in favor of the constitution and the process that needs to play out as we work to seat a new justice on the high court.  At this time we need leaders like Feingold proved himself to be in 2001.  We need elected folks who have the courage to lead our nation forward with bi-partisan firmness and the added desire of lowering the temperature of the polarizing politics that has fastened itself to this nomination.

I fully grasp the contentious nature of what is now unfolding.  But I hold firm that far more important than any citizen’s personal feelings about the future nominee for the court is the fact we all must make sure the process of governing is allowed to function.

Feingold proved in another hard-fought political season that all it takes is for someone to stand up and be counted.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2016 11:27 AM

    The senators were only able to take the action you describe because the process was allowed to play out–the president nominated and the confirmation proceeded. This matter of a court selection being able to be made by Obama was allowed for in the last election. A presidential term is four years, not the amount of time that a majority leader of the senate wishes it to be. McConnell also stated after the mid-terms that he wanted to prove the senate could function for the people and that Republicans were able to govern. I think that test is now set up for all to see.

  2. February 18, 2016 10:38 AM

    With all due respect, Greg, your analogy is off base. One may well agree that a president is entitled to a cabinet of his choosing. It IS the president’s cabinet, after all. The U.S. Supreme Court is a different matter. As Russ Feingold himself proved when, in January 2006, Russ was one of 25 Democrats who voted against cloture (i.e. in favor of filibustering) George W. Bush’s nomination of Samuel Alito. He joined Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, and Chuck Schumer — among others. Your cabinet analogy, in fact, only supports Majority Leader McConnell’s point: allow the people of the U.S. to decide the matter in a presidential election. That is what happened in 2001 with W’s nomination of John Ashcroft as his A.G.

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