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Earth Day: Climate Activists Demand Full Bench on High Court

President Obama's Clean Power Plan is one policy that will be affected by the vacant seat left on the U.S. Supreme Court by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. (NASA/Flickr)
President Obama's Clean Power Plan is one policy that will be affected by the vacant seat left on the U.S. Supreme Court by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. (NASA/Flickr)
April 22, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – As Earth Day events are held throughout Tennessee today, residents concerned about the effects of climate change and passionate about clean energy are calling on the U.S. Senate to do its job.

Specifically, they're asking Republican senators to move forward with hearings and an up-or-down vote on Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Both of Tennessee's U.S. Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, are among those who say President Barack Obama's successor should make the appointment. Zack Davis, a spokesman for NextGen Climate – a part of today's Earth Day efforts – explains why the time to act is now.

"We need a full nine justices on the bench, because we need to continue to build off the progress that we've made so far with clean-energy legislation, clean-energy policy," says Davis.

What's at stake, he says, is the president's Clean Power Plan. In February, the Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of the plan, thereby preventing the United States from carrying out promises made at the global climate summit in Paris.

Legal experts predict that with the current eight-member high court bench, there isn't enough support to uphold executive efforts to alleviate the country's impact on global warming.

According to Davis, he and others feel that Senate members refusing to fill the vacant seat left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia are preventing progress – and furthering harm to the planet.

"The future of clean energy and the future of the Clean Power Plan and good climate policy moving forward is going to be impacted by decisions made at the Supreme Court," Davis says. "We're just extremely disappointed to see Senate Republicans refuse to not only hold a hearing but really, just refusing to do what is a required part of their job."

At the time of Scalia's death, there were 10 months left in Obama's presidency. Historically, the Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a successor from the time of nomination. And a few presidents, including Republicans, have filled Supreme Court vacancies that were announced in their final year in office.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN