Guest Columnist

Grassley's 'civics lesson' sidesteps his record

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks during a Federal Judiciary Youth Summit at the Cedar Rapids U.S. Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Apr. 6, 2018.  (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks during a Federal Judiciary Youth Summit at the Cedar Rapids U.S. Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Apr. 6, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

In the April 6 article “Grassley’s aim: more civics, less cynicism” U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is quoted as saying, “Having greater understanding of the judicial systems brings greater confidence to that justice system, and less cynicism about our government.”

It’s not the Iowa high school students who need the civics lesson so much as the senator himself.

As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley possesses tremendous power to build confidence in the justice system, yet in recent years all he seems capable of doing is undermining the judiciary. The chair of the Judiciary Committee is responsible for processing all of the president’s federal judicial nominees, most of whom would serve in lifetime appointments if confirmed.

It’s impossible to forget that he alone completely neglected his constitutional duty to provide “advice and consent” when he refused to even schedule a hearing for the highly regarded moderate nominee, Merrick Garland, whom President Barack Obama nominated to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. This unprecedented move eroded confidence in the judiciary by politicizing the selection and confirmation of judges perhaps more than any other.

But Grassley did not stop there. He continues to further politicize the judicial nominations process by abandoning the ways in which the Senate used to cooperate to find consensus nominees, and he is doing this bidding for a president who routinely attacks the judiciary and individual judges. Already, 29 of President Donald Trump’s nominees have been confirmed to lifetime positions, 14 to Circuit Courts which are often the final arbiters on issues ranging from voting to health care. The breakneck speed with which Grassley has turned the Committee into a rubber stamp for extreme and narrow-minded nominees comes at a significant cost.

Just in 2015, Grassley said that it was important to only consider nominees where the president consulted with and sought approval from both senators from the state where the nominee would serve. He said that the “tradition is designed to encourage outstanding nominees and consensus between the White House and home-state senators.” Somehow, since 2017, Grassley had a change of heart. He has repeatedly disregarded senators’ own processes for selecting judges, many of whom have merit-based commissions such as the one that Judge John Jarvey applauds for selecting qualified judges for Iowans. Grassley also packs Judiciary Committee hearings with multiple controversial nominees to limit public scrutiny. He continues to vote for nominees who receive unanimous Not Qualified ratings from the American Bar Association. He has failed to hold the Trump administration accountable for the embarrassing number of omissions and errors made by nominees.

In order for the public to have confidence in the judiciary, they must have confidence in the selection and confirmation of judges. Grassley is uniquely positioned to champion this but has instead bowed to the special interests that are trying to transform the courts to achieve a regressive and unpopular agenda that cannot be done legislatively. It is a record students of civics should reject.

• Bob Rush is an attorney from Cedar Rapids.

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