Justice

Senate Republicans Won’t Hold SCOTUS Confirmation Hearing. They’re Holding These Hearings Instead.

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-IA) listens to an aide as Republicans and Democrats remain at an impasse over filling the Supreme Court vacancy

Even before President Obama announced on Wednesday his nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the late Antonin Scalia, the leading members of the Republican Party pledged to oppose his pick no matter what. The GOP has made it clear that there are no plans to even hold a hearing to allow a vote on Obama’s nominee.

Confirming court nominees is a central part of the Senate’s responsibilities. In response to intransigent senators who say it’s better to hold off until after an election year, critics have coalesced around a “do your job” rallying cry.

Although GOP members of the Senate may not be eager to hold confirmation hearings, they are finding plenty of other ways to spend their time. Here are just a few of the things the Senate Judiciary Committee has been focused on instead of confirming a ninth justice to the highest court in the country:

Restricting women's access to abortion.

Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing dramatically entitled "Late-Term Abortion: Protecting Babies Born Alive and Capable of Feeling Pain" to discuss a proposed 20-week abortion ban. A version of this legislation -- which is based on the scientifically inaccurate assertion that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks of gestation -- has already failed once during the current Senate session.

Several news outlets pointed out that prioritizing a doomed abortion restriction over a potential Supreme Court nomination doesn't make much sense. Some of the Democrats in the Senate made similar arguments on the floor.

"While the Republicans on that Committee say they won’t take the time to do their most important actual job, they were happy to spend their time this morning on their favorite hobby: doing everything they can to turn back the clock on women’s health care," Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said.

Fearmongering about immigrants taking American jobs.

On Thursday, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee plan to discuss whether more immigration reforms are needed to protect "skilled American workers."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the anti-immigrant chairman of the committee, will lead his opening statements with an anecdote about a woman who says she was "laid off from a company after 20 years and replaced by a foreign worker."

This is a common GOP talking point. Earlier this month, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) showed up at a Donald Trump rally in Alabama with two former Disney World workers who claimed that they were laid off and replaced by immigrant workers on high-skilled visas. In reality, economists agree that immigrant workers -- even high-skilled ones -- actually help create jobs and spur economic growth.

Going on a 'political fishing expedition.'

In a hearing about the "oversight of the Department of Justice" last week, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee raised concerns that the executive branch is overreaching to inappropriately impose its policies on the American public.

"The Justice Department had become deeply politicized," Grassley argued in his prepared remarks, adding that President Obama has been "carelessly ignoring the rule of law" and "substituting his own political preferences for the will of the American people."

GOP politicians have been raising alarm about Obama's supposed executive overreach for years -- and, at the beginning of 2016, the Judiciary Committee created a special task force to probe whether the president is exceeding his constitutional powers. This task force, composed of particularly conservative Obama critics, has been criticized by their Democratic colleagues as "political fishing expeditions" during an election year.

Considering a system to track immigrants' fingerprints.

The often immigration-focused Judiciary Committee has also recently spent some time discussing why the Department of Homeland Security hasn't yet implemented a biometric tracking system to keep tabs on immigrants as they enter and exit the country.

"An exit program that uses biometrics rather than just biographics is a vital component of national security," Grassley argued at the hearing. "We can’t wait any longer. We’ve provided the funding, but now we need to see results."

This system is an idea that originated amid heightened fears about terrorism post-9/11. But it's unclear that the technology exists to make it a reality. "If DHS were to implement a biometric exit system before all logistical and technical questions are answered, it would be unlikely to provide the full benefits it is designed to achieve," the Bipartisan Policy Center cautions. Due to the vast logistical challenges of trying to track fingerprints of the people entering and exiting the country, many Democrats also worry it will be too expensive to implement.