President Barack Obama has called Republicans’ bluff in nominating Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat on the Supreme Court.
Garland, 63, has earned respect from both sides of the aisle — so much so that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) predicted that Obama would overlook him in favor of a more ideological, partisan alternative.
Hatch told Newsmax on Sunday that Garland would not be Obama’s pick:
“The President told me several times he’s going to name a moderate [to fill the court vacancy], but I don’t believe him,” Hatch told us.
“[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man,” he told us, referring to the more centrist chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia who was considered and passed over for the two previous high court vacancies.
But, Hatch quickly added, “He probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election. So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants.”
Now that Obama has surprised Hatch — or, more charitably (and dubiously), played into his reverse psychology — Republicans will have a much harder time opposing the president’s nominee.
Thus far, they seem to be sticking to their principles — what Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has called the “Biden rules” — which are that no Supreme Court nominee should be confirmed in the last year of a presidential term.
Conservatives are shoring up Republican opposition. Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham issued a statement to that effect:
Nothing has changed. Senate Republicans deserve credit for using their “Advice and Consent” authority to ensure the American people’s voices are not ignored as they are in the process of selecting their next president. The next president — Republican or Democrat — should be in the position to fill the Court’s vacancy with the advise and consent of the Senate.
President Obama and Senate Democrats will no doubt call Judge Garland a “mainstream Federal judge’ and promise his ‘approach to deciding cases on the law and the Constitution, not politics or an ideological agenda.” Of course, they said those exact words when liberal Justices Sotomayor and Kagan were nominated. We are one liberal Justice away from seeing gun rights restricted and partial birth abortion being considered a constitutional right. The Republican majority exists to block these type of nominees.
Similarly, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow James Copland said:
Judge Garland is an experienced, highly regarded judge—who happens to be a liberal. In other words, he looks a lot like Samuel Alito did when he was nominated by George W. Bush, except that Alito was a conservative rather than a liberal. Then-Senator Obama not only opposed Alito’s nomination but supported a filibuster that would have denied the nominee a vote on the merits, on purely ideological grounds. It’s hardly surprising that GOP senators, now in the majority, would approach this nomination similarly.
Sen. Hatch recently said that he would oppose any confirmation hearings for Obama’s nominee. But he will face intense pressure to relent, particularly in light of his past support for Garland.
Republican leaders have yet to react. They have shown little stomach for a fight before. For Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, this may be a chance to define his legacy — one way or another.