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Grassley should follow the process to fill court vacancy

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During his long tenure, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley has championed government transparency and accountability. The Iowa Republican has been relentless in his pursuit of explanations for government actions.

But this week, the senator has been cryptic about where he stands on the question of filling a U.S. Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Despite dogged questioning, Grassley — chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would vet any nominee — has failed to clearly explain his views.

As news of Scalia’s death broke, Grassley initially was reluctant to make a “prognostication,” as he told The Des Moines Register. But just a couple of hours later, he echoed a rapid, rigid edict issued by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the Senate would consider no nominee by President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy. The vacancy, the GOP leader contends, must be filled by the next president, even as Obama has 11 months left in his final term.

Asked if his committee will hold hearings on an Obama nominee, Grassley hasn’t given a solid answer.

Iowans deserve a full explanation if Grassley is considering sidestepping a Supreme Court nomination process spelled out in the Constitution in favor of leaving the court short-handed for nearly a year, or longer. McConnell and other Republicans have argued waiting until after the election would give Americans a voice in the pick, ignoring the fact Americans elected Obama in 2012 for a full four-year term.

It’s hard to conclude this is anything but political maneuvering meant to meet partisan objectives at the expense of the Supreme Court, our constitutional process and the common good. It’s the sort of obstruction we’ve seen often in recent years, with ceaseless political warfare holding critical issues and institutions hostage.

Republicans wll argue that Democrats have committed similar offenses, or would do the same if the tables were turned. That’s not an excuse. Grassley and Republicans should follow the process where it leads.

The president should select a qualified, high-quality nominee, and Grassley’s committee should hold hearings to delve into that nominee’s fitness to serve. The Senate should hold an up-or-down vote.

Americans would be far better served by a transparent process that holds our elected leaders publicly accountable through hearings and votes than by gridlock. Grassley should be leading the charge to make it happen.

• Gazette editorials reflect the consensus opinion of The Gazette Editorial Board. Share your comments and ideas with us: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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