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Chair of Sault Ste. Marie Tribe calls for action on court nominee

Aaron Payment, the chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians speaks at the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C, on November 5, 2015. Still image from White House / YouTube

Members of the Senate have a constitutional duty to convene hearings on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, the leader of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians said on Thursday.

Top Republicans like Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Senate majority leader, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) , the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are refusing to consider Garland. They want the winner of the November presidential election to fill the vacancy on the nation's highest court.

“The next justice could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court and have a profound impact on our country, so of course the American people should have a say in the court’s direction," McConnell said in a statement.

But Aaron Payment, the chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, said their stance defies the U.S. Constitution. He is urging Indian Country to contact Senators and call for hearings.

"By failing to hold nomination hearings, these Senators are threatening to drastically alter our Constitution," Payment said. "Not through the amendment process, but in a helter-skelter manner that would enable them (not the people of the United States) to pick and choose which portions of the Constitution they want to follow."

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: White House Conference Call on Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland

With a record four Indian law cases on the docket, Payment previously stressed the importance of filling the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Decisions are pending in three cases that will affect tribal courts, tribal jurisdiction and protections for Native women.

The court can function with 8 members but waiting until the next president enters office in January 2017 and then waiting for him or her to nominate a replacement could result in unusual delays. Ties in any particular case will likely lead to a rehearing with a full slate of 9 justices.

In announcing Merrick's nomination, the White House unveiled the official SCOTUSnom Twitter account. One of the first posts notes that every Supreme Court nominee since 1875 has received a hearing or vote.

During a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, White House officials also said it would be unprecedented for Senate Republicans to refuse to allow a vote on Merrick. He was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in March 1997 with bipartisan support.

The D.C. Circuit hears a significant number of Indian law cases and Garland has participated in some important ones. However, he has never written a majority opinion in the Indian law cases that came before him.

Also Today:
Why Sen. Mitch McConnell won’t budge on the Supreme Court nomination (The Washington Post 3/16)
What picking a white, male, moderate Harvard grad for the Supreme Court says about Obama’s legacy (The Washington Post 3/16)
Some Senate Republicans Will Meet With Supreme Court Nominee (The New York Times 3/17)
Obama Chooses Merrick Garland for Supreme Court (The New York Times 3/17)
Merrick Garland’s Path to Nomination Marked by Deference, With Limits (The New York Times 3/17)

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