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Syracuse Congress Member, Challenger and Law Professor Weigh in on Supreme Court Vacancy

John Smith/WAER News

Central New York is weighing in on the Supreme Court vacancy and sharing some opinions about what happens next.

The court opening that came after last week’s death of Justice Antonin Scalia has started a debate about whether the president should nominate a replacement or wait almost a year for the next president to take office. Syracuse-area congress member John Katko has no problem with Mr. Obama making a choice, but wonders how the confirmation process might go.

“If he wants to bring someone to the senate for a nomination, that’s his prerogative. There’s nothing that’s constitutional you can do to stop him,” Katko said. “But if he does, especially in a politically charged election year like this, it’s got to be someone that both sides can agree on. And that’s going to be the trick.”

If the GOP-led Senate does not consider the nominee at all, Katko agrees it might reflect on the party as being obstructionist. But he notes that would be just more partisan rhetoric. 

The Democratic Party contenders feel Congress must fulfill its duty to the American people and agree to consider a Supreme Court nominee.

Steve Williams wants Katko to call out his GOP colleagues so the issue isn't just more gridlock in Washington.

"Further, all this nonsense about an 80-year precedent of not confirming a Supreme Court nominee in the last year of a presidency is just that, nonsense. The Democrat controlled Senate confirmed President Reagan's appointment of Justice Kennedy during the last year of his presidency. Senate Republicans need to step up and fulfill their duties, and as a member of the Republican party, John Katko needs to call on them to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities."

Another candidate, Colleen Deacon accuses Senate Republicans of playing politics with the vacancy on the Court, and is also calling on the incumbent Katko to stand up to his party.

Colleen Deacon received the Democratic party's designation for the 24th Congressional District.

  “We need to stop putting partisan politics in front of constitutional obligations. Congressman Katko owes it to his constituents to stand up and fight for a replacement.”

While Katko conceded that it is the president’s prerogative to offer a nomination, but cautioned that the nominee needs to be someone that Republicans in the Senate will find palatable. Deacon wants Mr. Katko to go further to best serve the constituents of the 24th district.

“He should be doing everything he can to stop partisan bickering and move on with his job. He has not called on the senate. I’ve heard him call on the president to submit a palatable nominee, but he has not called on the senate. If he really wants to get something done he would call on his party to do their job.”

Even though the House of Representatives does not have a role in confirming Supreme Court Justices, Deacon believes it’s still important. She expects cases coming before the Court to have an impact on Central New Yorkers.

“Issues like women’s  healthcare, voting rights, diminishing labor union rights and higher education issues.”

She compares the GOP’s reluctance to consider a nominee to partisan gridlock on other issues in Washington. Deacon was endorsed by Onondaga County Democrats while Williams and Deacon both were supported by those in Wayne, Cayuga and Oswego Counties.  They're seeking the Democratic nomination against Eric Kingson.

Syracuse University Law Professor Keith Bybee says there’s no law compelling the Senate to hold confirmation hearings. But it’s usually not a role for the public.

“I think that principal of appealing to the general electorate before we can move forward with a president and the senate exercising their constitutionally conferred powers is new,” Bybee said.  “It’s the very newness of it that is generating all the controversy.”

There’s a larger concern over how the vacancy influences the court. Justices are now deliberating cases from this past fall.  Bybee wonders how long a court, which could be deadlocked in four-to-four votes, will last.

“I don’t think anybody believes that Justice Saclia’s seat will be filled in the remainder of the current term,” Bybee said. “A very optimistic view is that there will be a replacement sometime this calendar year. The pessimistic view is from the perspective of those who are concerned about having a nine justice court is that we won’t see somebody until [the] Fall of 2017.”

On the other hand, Congress member Katko says once there is a nominee, people can get past the rhetoric and start examining the substance of the candidate.