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Grassley Says SCOTUS Functions Fine With Eight Justices

Iowa Public Radio / Amy Mayer

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley says he's not harming the justice system by refusing to hold hearings for a U.S. Supreme Court nominee. 

Grassley says the public should decide the next justice when they vote for president in November. Democrats call this blatant partisanship. 

Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he's not worried that there will continue to be an even number of justices for the next year. Iowa's senior Republican senator points out that both Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito say the court is able to continue with its work, despite the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month.

"So if you got people right there in the Supreme Court, one a Democrat appointee and one a Republican appointee, saying that the court can function just fine, then I think that's better than anything Sen. Grassley can say," says Grassley.

Grassley adds that Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from over a third of the cases in her first year on the bench. Her previous position as Solicitor General with the Department of Justice has created several conflicts of interest.

The longest vacancy since the Supreme Court went to nine justices was 391 days. The average amount of time a nominee waits for a confirmation vote is 67 days.

Apple vs. FBI 

In addition to the Supreme Court vacancy, Grassly's position as head of the Judiciary Committee means he may also weigh in on the contentious legal battle between technology giant Apple Inc. and the FBI. The FBI wants Apple to write code that allows federal agents access to the smart phone belonging to one of the shooters of the San Bernardino terrorist attack, but Apple says this code will compromise the privacy of its customers.  

Tomorrow U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She may address whether she wants Congress to intervene. 

"Right now I don't see legislation moving," say Grassley, who has so far been reticent to offer an opinion, instead preferring that the Obama Administration and tech companies find an eventual solution.