Relying on the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that ended school segregation, Sen. Ben Cardin pointed to history on Tuesday to make his case for filling the court's current vacancy with nominee Merrick Garland.
Brown v. Board of Education, which was decided on May 17, 1954, was also influenced by a vacancy, Cardin pointed out. Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson died nine months after oral arguments in the case. Weeks later, President Dwight Eisenhower gave Earl Warren a recess appointment to bench, and the new Chief Justice went on to write the unanimous decision in Brown.
Warren was confirmed by the Senate in March of 1954, by voice vote.
"It really does highlight the importance of a full Supreme Court -- all nine," the Maryland Democrat said on Capitol Hill. "It was because they had nine on the Supreme Court that were willing to...resolve the issue in a way to bring consensus...and to bring about an incredibly important protection of our Constitution."
Baltimore attorney Thurgood Marshall, who would go on to serve on the Supreme Court for nearly a quarter century, successfully argued the Brown case on behalf of the NAACP.
Cardin, flanked by officials from a number of teachers unions, said the history underscored the need for Senate Republicans to take action on Garland, a Marylander who was nominated by President Barack Obama in March to fill the seat left open by the death in February of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republican leaders have firmly opposed moving forward with confirmation hearings, a position that is unlikely to change until after the election at earliest.
Hoping to avoid a split decision, the justices declined Monday to decide a high-profile case dealing with how faith-based employers may respond to a requirement that insurers provide contraception coverage, instead directing the parties to work out a compromise in the lower courts.
"There are many reasons why we need nine," Cardin said, noting that split decisions lead to a patchwork of legal precedent. "If that vacancy is not filled...your rights will vary [depending] on what circuit you happen to live in."