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Confirming Fair-minded Judges and Protecting the Independent Judiciary

Last month, I had the privilege of attending the investiture of Judge Jonathan Kobes, a newly-appointed U.S. Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Kobes, who previously worked as my general counsel, resides in Sioux Falls with his family. Judge Kobes has spent his career demonstrating his commitment to justice and the fair application of law. He is precisely the type of judge we have been committed to confirming in the Senate the past several years. I was proud to support his nomination when it came before the Senate.


Since President Trump took office, we have made a commitment to confirming his well-qualified judicial nominees to the federal bench. We have confirmed a record 144 federal judges, all of whom will serve lifetime appointments. Confirming a president’s judicial nominees is one of the most important jobs we do in the U.S. Senate, since the court decisions they make will have a lasting impact on the future of our country.


It is important that the men and women who serve on the federal bench interpret the law as it is written, not based on their personal and political ideologies. In drafting the U.S. Constitution, our founding fathers clarified that a separation of powers exists between the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government. Only the legislative branch—Congress—can make laws. The judicial branch is in charge of interpreting the laws passed by Congress. An independent, non-political judiciary is a critical part of our democracy.


In August, some of our Democrat colleagues threatened to “pack the Supreme Court,” meaning they would seek to restructure the court and change the number of Justices if the court issues decisions that are not to their liking. This threat stems from the Supreme Court’s decision to review New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. New York. New York City restricted the transportation of firearms to and from authorized shooting ranges outside the five boroughs of the city. This rule was challenged in a lower court on the basis that it violates the Second Amendment, the commerce clause and the right to travel.


A number of Senate Democrats urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the case or risk political retribution. Five of them wrote in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, “Perhaps the Court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured to reduce the influence of politics.” I joined all of my Republican Senate colleagues to send a letter to the Supreme Court condemning Democrats’ threats and assuring the Justices they are safe from any such threats as long as we remain in the Senate.


The judiciary is independent and must remain free from political whims if it is to do its job as stated in the Constitution. The highest court in the land should not be threatened by Members of Congress who disagree with its decisions. It is okay to disagree with the courts on certain decisions—I certainly have. However, it is inappropriate to threaten to restructure the Supreme Court if their decisions don’t match up with your politics.  


As we head back to Washington after our in-state work period, the Senate will keep confirming the president’s nominees to the federal courts. We’ll also keep working to make sure the judicial system remains independent. All Americans are entitled to due process of law, which means we need a judiciary that is fair and impartial. The Senate and the president are working to make certain there is balance to the judiciary now and for the next generation.