WASHINGTON—Today the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Texas abortion case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which challenges the draconian restrictions on abortion providers enacted by the State of Texas in 2013. These restrictions, if upheld, would lead to the closing of most abortion clinics in the state. In a few weeks, the Court will consider in Zubik v. Burwell, whether religiously affiliated institutions can cut off coverage for contraceptives in their employees’ health plans that is mandated under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“With the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court has an empty seat on the bench that needs to be filled. Yet, the Senate refuses to begin the process of considering the confirmation of a new justice,” said Elizabeth G. Taylor, NHeLP executive director. “By refusing to even entertain the idea of a hearing for the nominee, the Senate is preventing the Court from fulfilling its constitutional responsibility and our government ceases to function in the best interests of the public.”
The President has the constitutional right to nominate Article III judges, including U.S. Supreme Court justices, “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate,” under Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. This section of the Constitution clarifies the Senate must fulfill its constitutional responsibility to ensure the effective functioning of our courts by giving that nominee fair consideration on the merits and a timely up-or-down vote.
In late February, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley and its ten Republican members issued a letter indicating that, due to the presidential elections this year, they will withhold consent on any nominee to the Supreme Court by refusing to schedule a hearing.
“The Supreme Court’s work is too important for the Senate to undermine,” said Jane Perkins, NHeLP legal director. “This stubborn refusal from Senate leadership is unacceptable and comes at a crucial time for many issues in our country, including health care. Right now, the stakes are high for women’s ability to choose if and when they start a family.”
In recent cases related to health equity, including National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (upholding Congress’ power to enact the ACA), King v. Burwell (allowing tax credits under the ACA to individuals purchasing health insurance on the federal exchange), and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (allowing corporate employers to deprive women of contraception as a health care benefits), the Supreme Court’s decisions were of monumental importance and impact. An eight-member Court would result in upholding the rulings of the lower court in the case of evenly split decisions.
“Those of us on the front lines of ensuring that community members have the information and resources they need to care for and make the best decisions for themselves rely on the clearest guidance the Supreme Court can give on tough issues-and the best guidance comes from having a full bench weigh in,” said Taylor. “It’s time for the Senate to end this political posturing and do its constitutional duty so that the Court can do its job.”