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Senate checks on presidential appointments

U.S. Presidents have the power to appoint Supreme Court judges, a role that lasts a lifetime. However, the Senate must confirm these appointments. In 2016, President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland was blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate, showing the Senate's ability to check presidential power.

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  • old spice man green style avatar for user Don Spence
    Why does Sal say that the Merrick Garland confirmation could have an effect for generations? Garland was 63 years old when nominated for the US Supreme Court.
    (2 votes)
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    • boggle blue style avatar for user Davin V Jones
      Had Garland been confirmed, that would have switched the political balance of the court. Most judges leave office during an administration that aligns with their political views, making their replacement more likely to also be politically aligned and possibly allowing for an even younger, longer lasting justice to be put into place. Thus allowing the effects to last for generations.
      (7 votes)

Video transcript

- [Narrator] Presidents of the United States have many powers, but perhaps one of the most influential of these powers is the power of appointment. They can, of course, appoint members of their cabinet. They can appoint ambassadors, ambassadors, and they can appoint judges. We could talk about federal judges generally, but perhaps most importantly, they can appoint members of the Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court, and that is a very influential appointment because these are positions that will last for a lifetime, but this power is not unchecked. These appointments need to be confirmed by the United States Senate, and many times, the confirmation process goes relatively smoothly, but sometimes, especially when we're talking about lifetime judicial appointments, especially to the United States Supreme Court, things can get quite heated, and perhaps the best example of that is something that has happened quite recently relatively to the making of this video. 2016 was an election year. In February of 2016, you have associate Justice Scalia passes away. Now this is a really, really big deal because, as we talked about, Supreme Court appointments are for life, and so in theory this is now a time where the president would make a nomination. Now the president does make a nomination. President Barack Obama in March of 2016 nominates Merrick Garland. Now the Republicans are not happy, and Republicans control both houses of Congress, but most important for this video, they control the Senate, and the reason why they are not happy is Justice Scalia was considered to be the conservative backbone of the United States Supreme Court, and if all of a sudden he is replaced with someone who leans to the left, who leans liberal, that could change the tone. That could change the sentiment of the United States Supreme Court for a generation or maybe even generations to come. So they invoke their power in the Senate, which is controlled by Mitch McConnell, who is the Senate majority leader. He decides to take a hard stance, and even though President Obama had nominated Merrick Garland, the Republicans make the argument that, "Hey, this is a presidential election year. "We're just gonna wait things out," so they refused to have hearings on Merrick Garland, much less vote on his nomination, and so they essentially just wait out the clock through the presidential election, and then at the presidential election, you have a Republican who gets elected, Donald Trump, and so then they are able to help get Donald Trump's appointment for that seat approved, and even that is a little bit of an interesting political story. So this is a classic example of a congressional check on a presidential power, and this one in particular gets people on both sides of the aisle a little bit worked up. Democrats would say, "Wow, you did not consider an appointment by a president, "and you waited out many, many, many months "just to get an outcome you wanted?" While Republicans might say, "Wow, Mitch McConnell was really principled here, "and he really used the Senate's constitutional power "to place an appropriate check on the president." I will let you decide.