Letter to Senator Ron Johnson on Supreme Court Hearings

United States Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty

United States Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty

March 21, 2016

Dear Senator Johnson,

This is a request for you to do your job if you want to save it.

President Obama fulfilled his duty and nominated a new Supreme Court justice and it is incumbent upon the Senate to hold hearings and to either vote the nominee up or down. Despite all the contortions that members of the Senate are going through to make it seem that the right thing to do is to wait until after the election both the Constitution and tradition say otherwise.

You and your fellow Republicans are doing a disservice to the American people and to the institution of the Supreme Court (and Senate) by failing to act upon the nomination that the President has forwarded to you.

Contrary to the hot air and equivocations being spouted by the esteemed senators from Kentucky and Iowa, among others, there is nothing historically that suggests that you should not act upon the nomination now. Republicans are correct that in the last 40 years no Supreme Court justice has been nominated and accepted in an election year, because this is the first time in that 40-year span that it has even been a possibility. In that time two nominations from Republican Presidents were voted on with less than a year to go before an election (they were technically nominated and approved in the year prior to an election even though it was within a year of the election date). Both of those were unanimously approved by the Senate, which in both cases was controlled by Democrats at the time. Going back even further many justices have been nominated and/or approved in election years, including five who became Supreme Court justices just since 1900. Digging further into our history there are even more.

Most Americans agree with me on this rather than with you and your fellow obstructionists. Poll after poll has shown that the majority of Americans support the normal process unfolding the way it should, and the percentage has continued to climb higher in each poll since Justice Scalia passed away. This includes 62% of Wisconsinites according to a recent survey by Public Policy Polling (released the week of February 22). You were elected as a Republican, but that does not mean you only represent Republican voters. You were elected to represent all Wisconsin voters, including Republicans, Democrats, those affiliated with various third parties, and independents like myself. When two-thirds of state residents believe a certain way you would do well to listen. The poll also found that Senators who did not listen to their constituents on this issue are in danger of losing their seats, especially Senators who are already vulnerable, such as yourself.

If you know your Wisconsin history you know that the citizens of this state will not support elected officials or candidates who play political games on issues like this. Wisconsin is the state that in the early part of the 20th Century elected a Socialist representative to Congress three times and each time with a larger majority when Congress refused to seat him. Voters who did not like Victor Berger and did not vote for him in the initial election voted for him the second and third times in special elections because they felt it was wrong that he was not seated when the majority of Wisconsinites elected him to serve. Likewise with Governor Scott Walker’s recall election. Many people who did not like Governor Walker voted for him in the recall election because they believed the recall was nothing but political gamesmanship. You can be assured that if you play games with something as important as the selection of a Supreme Court justice you will face the wrath of Wisconsin voters at the polls. You will be doing Russ Feingold an incredible favor if you follow party lines and not the will of Badger voters.

You were quoted on National Public Radio as saying “Why not let the American people decide the direction of the Supreme Court?” The American people voted Barack Obama into office for eight years, not for just over seven years. And yes, the American people voted in a Republican majority in the most recent election, but that doesn’t mean they did so to encourage thwarting the President at every turn. If you truly believe that the American people should have a say then you should be more attentive to the polls in which a consistent majority—even from conservative polling organizations—have said that hearings should be held. The American people are telling Congress to act on Obama’s nomination and to do so in a timely manner. The average time for the Senate to approve or reject nominees in modern times is just over three weeks. If you do nothing for eight months then you are clearly abdicating your duties and your oath of office.

If you and your fellow Senators stick to your promise of not allowing a hearing on the President’s nomination to the Supreme Court then you can be assured that the people of Wisconsin and other states will promise to remove you from office. Be assured that we will succeed in electing representatives who truly represent the will of the people.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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