Sen. Cory Gardner was just offered something most millennials would kill for: free college.
Taking inspiration from the late Harper Lee’s 1966 offer to help send an “illiterate,” book-banning school board back to first grade, dozens of demonstrators Monday afternoon called for Gardner to sign up for a Civics 101 course at any local college. Progressive group MoveOn.org even offered to pay for it.
The protesters gathered outside Gardner’s downtown Denver office where they said the senator should either consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, or go back and study the Constitution.
The president’s nomination last week came just over a month after the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Gardner is one of the 43 U.S. Republican senators who have vowed, under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to deny Garland a hearing or a vote.
None of the demonstrators suggested Republicans have to approve Garland. But they insisted the advise and consent clause of the Constitution requires the Senate to at least hold a vote.
“Quit obstructing justice and do your job,” one sign read. The protest was part of a nationwide day of action coordinated by MoveOn.org to get Republican senators to consider the nominee.
“The Constitution gives the president the responsibility to nominate justices to the Supreme Court and gives the Senate the job of considering those nominees,” event organizer Phil Tatro told the crowd. “There are no exceptions for election years.”
Tatro’s statement was soon interrupted by an angry spectator gesticulating with a burrito.
“The Constitution does not require that the Senate take a vote,” shouted Elliot Fladen, a Denver attorney who’d been told of the protest as he was buying his lunch.
Chants of “Do your job!” quickly drowned out Fladen’s counterprotest. During an interview, he elaborated on his position.
“The argument that senators are failing to do their constitutional duty, because it’s a violation of the advise and consent clause of the Constitution, is just ridiculous,” said Fladen, a member of the Tea Party. “The advise and consent clause has no obligation that senators hold hearings or a vote. Bottom line, if you say they’re not doing their duty constitutionally, your argument is going nowhere,” he said.
But the protesters were adamant that Gardner has a responsibility to his constituents to move forward on this issue.
“People are really tired of elected officials having allegiance to their party structures instead of to the voters who put them there,” said Ruth Clevenger of Denver. “We have a very qualified justice. He at least deserves a hearing. This is what we pay them for,” she said.
It seems even Chief Justice Roberts would agree that the political gridlock the Court is facing is detrimental to its purpose. Just 10 days before Justice Scalia’s death, he lamented how arduous and politicized the confirmation process has been for the Court’s most recent additions.
“The votes were, I think, strictly on party lines for the last three of them, or close to it, and that doesn’t make any sense. That suggests to me that the process is being used for something other than ensuring the qualifications of the nominees,” Roberts said.
Clevenger echoed his sentiment. “We think this is an issue that cuts across political parties,” she said.
A smaller group of protesters walked inside to Gardner’s office to drop off the civics class enrollment form and a page from the Constitution. They also hoped to schedule a meeting with him during the Senate’s recess.
The senator wasn’t in his office. A spokeswoman for Gardner told his constituents, after they made multiple requests to speak to him in person, that his trip home to Colorado won’t include any time in Denver when he could meet with them.
Photo credit: Kelsey Ray