Game on. Even though the Senate is on recess, the fight over the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland is intensifying. Both Democratic and Republican strategists are ramping up campaigns to sway the public to their side of the issue. But so far, despite the consensus view of Garland as a centrist, Senate Republicans remain opposed to granting him a hearing and confirmation vote.
Every day, 26 million Hispanics get up, go to work and do their jobs. We have a right to expect that our leaders do the same. Now that President Obama has discharged his duty under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, it is not unreasonable to expect the Senate to follow suit. Would Senate Republicans refrain from their own votes and decisions this year because it is an election year? Of course not. Besides, the Constitution does not contain exceptions for the final year of a president's term, or for the "lame-duck period," which is eight months away.
For Latinos, the stakes could not be higher in the standoff over Garland's nomination. Consider just a few of the cases before the court this term: In Fisher v. University of Texas, the court is revisiting affirmative action, in a case coming from the state with the second-largest Hispanic population in the country. In Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, the right of many Texas women (including thousands of Texas Latinas) to access safe and legal abortions is at risk. In the upcoming U.S. v. Texas, the court will rule on Obama's executive action on immigration, which could impact an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants and their families.
In addition to these cases, Hispanics need a full Supreme Court bench because the judiciary branch plays an important role in safeguarding our civil rights. From guaranteeing public education for the children of immigrants to striking down Arizona's "papers, please" law, the court has consistently helped us advance toward full and equal participation in society. These days, as Latinos continue to experience racial profiling and discrimination, our need for a fully functional court remains as critical as ever.
A review of Garland's record as judge shows that he could be a potential ally of the Latino community. As the progressive website ThinkProgress noted, "There's little risk that Garland will become another member of the Court's conservative bloc." He takes voting rights seriously, as evidenced by his role in a 2012 decision finding that Florida's cutbacks to early voting violated the Voting Rights Act. His philosophy of deference to executive interpretation of the law makes him a likely vote in support of the Obama administration's position in the immigration case.
That's not to say that Garland is a raging liberal. He is a former federal prosecutor who has rarely voted in favor of criminal defendants appealing their convictions. He also voted against Guantánamo detainees seeking relief in U.S. courts. Yet the fact that Garland is not easily categorized as either a liberal or conservative suggests that he is a principled jurist with respect for the law.
No wonder a broad coalition of Latino civil rights and advocacy groups support Garland's nomination. The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, which includes groups like the National Council of La Raza and the Hispanic National Bar Association, favor Garland's nomination proceeding through the confirmation process. Even former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who served during the George W. Bush administration, believes that Garland deserves a vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I believed Senate obstruction through inaction was wrong when I was on the other side of the process, and I believe it is wrong today," Gonzalez wrote in a USA Today op-ed. "The president has done his job and, when the Senate is prepared, members should do theirs." He rightly noted that the constitutional power to choose a nominee rests solely with the president — and that Obama has made his pick.
Hispanics and other Americans are not well-served by a vacancy on the high court. Garland's nomination deserves Latino support.
Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City. He is also an NBCNews.com contributor.