GOP firm against SCOTUS hearings for Garland, but some break ranks
WASHINGTON, D.C., March 17, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- The Senate's GOP leadership says it isn't budging on blocking President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, even as several senators have indicated they will meet with District of Columbia Court of Appeals Justice Merrick Garland.
Garland is considered a center-left nominee, with a liberal record on gun rights but a more conservative record on criminal justice and related issues. Though the justice has apparently never ruled on abortion, pro-life and pro-family groups are strongly urging Republicans to reject his nomination.
Meetings are normally the first step senators take in the approval process. According to Politico, politically vulnerable Republican senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark Kirk of Illinois, as well as Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona, have said they will meet with Garland. Flake also said he was open to approving Garland, who has little record on life and family issues, in a lame-duck session after the presidential elections in November.
Ayotte and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who both face tough re-election battles this year, said meetings with Garland would not lead to them supporting his nomination. “My position is that we should allow the American people to weigh in,” Ayotte said. “And so I think we should see what the outcome and what direction the people of this country would like to take.”
While the handful of potential GOP cracks in the formation may get a lot of media attention, it is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-IA, who are the real decision-makers on the nomination process. Both said they will not allow Garland to move forward while President Obama is in office.
McConnell and Grassley opposed Garland's nomination for the Court of Appeals 19 years ago, but like other Republicans, they have described their opposition by saying the American people should choose in the November election which party will get to appoint Scalia’s successor.
This position has been echoed by other prominent senators, including moderates like South Carolina's Lindsey Graham and Arizona's John McCain. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who called Garland "a fine man" in recent weeks, held to his position that he would not consider a vote on the nominee.
Collins, who regularly bucks her party's leadership, said the apparently centrist Garland would be a better nominee than any that would be put forth if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wins the presidency.
“The irony would be if Secretary Clinton wins and this nominee, who is considered a centrist, is not considered and we end up with a nominee who’s far more liberal,” she noted to Politico.
In a media statement, conservative Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford said that "while the Constitution says the President shall nominate judges to the Supreme Court, it does not say the Senate shall approve the nominee. Based on previous historical precedent, I support Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s intent to give the American people a say in Justice Scalia’s replacement this year at the ballot box.”
Lankford also highlighted past quotes from Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, that the advocate the Republicans’ position.
"In June 25, 1992, then-Senator and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Joe Biden, said, 'Can our Supreme Court nomination and confirmation processes, so racked by discord and bitterness, be repaired in a Presidential election year? History teaches us that this is extremely unlikely. It is my view that if the President…presses an election-year nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over.'"
"Biden also said 'President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not--and not--name a nominee until after the November election is completed,'" noted Lankford.
As well, in 2005, Reid said that "the duties of the Senate are set forth in the U.S. Constitution. Nowhere in that document does it say the Senate has a duty to give Presidential appointees a vote.”
Across the Capitol, two prominent House Republicans likewise stood by their Senate brethren. "The Constitution of the United States grants President Obama the authority to make a nomination to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte. "Our Framers also entrusted the United States Senate with the right to consent to or reject such a nominee. Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Judiciary Chairman Grassley have stated their intentions to allow the American people to have a say in this important appointment, and I support their decision. The American people should have a say in how we pick such a member of the highest court in the land.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-WI, said that “This has never been about who the nominee is. It is about a basic principle. Under our Constitution, the president has every right to make this nomination, and the Senate has every right not to confirm a nominee. I fully support Leader McConnell and Chairman Grassley's decision not to move forward with the confirmation process. We should let the American people decide the direction of the court."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement that "President Obama’s decision to nominate a Supreme Court Justice denies the American people a voice in this process. For more than eighty years, there has not been a nomination and confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice in a presidential election year and now is not the time to break with bipartisan practice."
"Democrats’ willingness to cast aside nearly a century of precedent only exposes how eager they are to advance the political agenda of a lame duck president. When Americans head to the polls in a few short months, they will have a unique opportunity to determine the direction of the court – President Obama is doing a disservice to voters with this attempt to tip the balance of the court with a liberal justice in the eleventh hour of his presidency. We will not stand by idly while President Obama attempts to install a liberal majority on the court to further undermine our Constitution and protect his lawless actions."
While pro-life groups have urged Republicans to not consider Garland, ironically, it was pro-abortion groups that were concerned about Garland when he was floated as a possible Supreme Court nominee in 2010 because of his lack of a record on abortion.
However, the heads of NARAL and Planned Parenthood are now urging Republicans to have hearings for Garland, saying a great deal would be learned about the nominee's positions on Roe v. Wade and abortion generally.