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White House and Senate Republicans Wrangle over Supreme Court

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama is quietly strategizing with Senate Democrats about how to push a Supreme Court nominee to confirmation this year, while Republicans show no sign of flinching in their promise to let the American people decide this issue in November.

Two events last week showcased the ongoing struggle over Obama’s attempt to appoint a new justice to a lifetime appointment on the High Court, which has not been done for the better part of a century during a presidential election year.

The first clash came during Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, the business meeting of that powerful committee since the passing of conservative lion Antonin Scalia. Sen. Patrick Leahy complained about the committee’s refusing to hold Supreme Court hearings during this election year.

Sen. Orrin Hatch set forth in his prepared remarks during the committee’s meeting:

The question regarding the vacancy created by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is when, not whether, the Senate should consider a nominee. Democrats say that the Constitution answers the question for us, requiring a prompt hearing and floor vote whenever the president chooses a nominee. Anything else, they say, would not be doing our job. Mr. Chairman, rarely have so few words been so misleading to so many.

Referencing Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution, Hatch went on to explain:

The Constitution gives the nomination power to the president, and the “advice and consent” power to the Senate. The Constitution does not tell either the president or the Senate how to exercise their power. The Senate must decide how to exercise its power of advice and consent in each situation, and has done so in different ways, at different times, under different circumstances.

Chairman Chuck Grassley has already explained that the committee would not be holding hearings on any Supreme Court nominee, and a majority of committee members signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promising as such. According to Grassley and his committee members, this allows time for a national debate to play out on what direction the nation should go regarding the nation’s highest court, as expressed by the vote tallies this November.

Grassley has previously noted that when Republicans have held the White House, Democrats had been the ones vowing not to hold confirmation hearings during presidential election years.

Responding to the Democrats’ newfound commitment to election-year confirmations, Grassley asked during Thursday’s committee meeting, “Why are this outrage? Why the demands for a hearing that everyone knows will not result in a confirmation?”

Grassley was also nonplussed when the next day, Obama held a clandestine meeting at the White House with top Democrats to plot how they could change this dynamic. The details of Friday’s meeting have not been made public, but Grassley—who was not told about the meeting beforehand—expressed his displeasure, tweeting, “Wish Repub[licans] had [been] invited to Dem[ocrats’] secret closed door SCOTUS meeting.”

The conflict over the Supreme Court is very likely to be back on the front pages once Obama makes a nomination, which many expect to take place within the next two weeks.

Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.

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