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My view: Sen. Hatch and Sen. Lee: Please support the Constitution and its processes

An open letter to Sens. Orrin Hatch and Michael S. Lee, both R-Utah
An open letter to Sens. Orrin Hatch and Michael S. Lee, both R-Utah
Deseret News composite photo

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An open letter to Sens. Orrin Hatch and Michael S. Lee, both R-Utah:

Dear Sens. Hatch and Lee,

I am one of your constituents. I have lived in Payson with my family for 15 years. Before that I lived off and on in the state another 14 years (with absences for a mission and grad school).

I have what you might consider solid Utah Republican, conservative credentials. I’ve been a Utah County and Utah state convention delegate, officer and volunteer more times than I can remember. In that process, I’ve met and spoken with both of you several times. And I’ve voted for both of you at GOP state conventions and in general elections.

I’m also a student of the Constitution. As a BYU political science undergrad, I learned from great professors like Noel Reynolds, Stan Taylor, Dick Vetterli and David Magleby. I went on to earn a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Oklahoma, where I studied American government and American political thought. While writing my dissertation, I worked in the House of Representatives for a year for Congressman J.C Watts Jr., R-Oklahoma, one of the 1994 revolutionary Republican freshmen.

In addition to careful study of the Constitution itself, I’ve read extensively from the Founders’ writings, including The Federalist and Antifederalist Papers and Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention. I’ve read Sen. Lee’s father’s book, "A Lawyer Looks at the Constitution," and referenced it frequently in my writing and teaching.

I say all of this to assure you that I’m not a fickle, uninformed, knee-jerk constituent. I have largely agreed with, supported, and voted for you during your Senate careers.

This is the first time, however I’ve felt so disappointed, let down, and mystified by the two of you that I’m compelled to tell you so in writing.

As United States senators, you have the constitutional authority and duty to provide advice and consent to the president’s nominees. And he has the constitutional authority and duty to nominate persons to fill judicial and executive branch vacancies.

You are certainly free to refuse to take action on any such nominees. You are also free to skip votes, fail to show for committee meetings or cast votes without reading bills. There are a lot of things you *can* do. But there are things you *should* do. When we start (or rather continue) allowing governing to take a back seat to campaigning and elections, something has gone seriously awry.

Please do not contribute to what I believe is rapidly becoming a catastrophic political arms race that threatens to taint and demean the constitutional nomination and confirmation process. If we declare the fourth year of a president’s term off-limits for “significant” nominations, what’s to prevent Democrats or Republicans in future years from doubling down on the notion that “voters should have their say”?

How long exactly do election results count as legitimate support for a president’s nominees? A year? Two years? You apparently believe the legitimacy shelf-life to be three years. Is this only the case in a second term? Or should it be the case in presidents’ first terms too?

I’m not suggesting you blindly vote to confirm Merrick Garland. By all means, vote against him if you don’t believe him fit for the bench. But when you adamantly refuse to even move forward with the customary, well-established advice and consent process, you’re shirking your duty and making a mockery of a centuries-old, constitutionally established process.

The two of you have even gone on record saying you wouldn’t confirm even a nominee you wholeheartedly supported (in Sen. Lee’s case, his own brother). And you wonder why people are cynical. I should be the poster boy for your supporters. And I’m incensed.

In a moment when our country needs statesmanship more than ever, when we desperately need a repudiation of partisan shenanigans, and some — any! — reason to be less cynical, please eschew the politics of us-versus-them. Please govern. Please represent me and so many of my fellow citizens who honor and support the Constitution and respect the processes it establishes, even (perhaps particularly) when we don’t like the specific outcomes.


Jon Mott

Payson, Utah

Jon Mott earned an undergraduate degree in political science from BYU and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Oklahoma. A longtime "Madisonian liberal," he now works as an education technology and learning science executive.