On the night of Antonin Scalia’s death, Mitchell McConnell, Republican Majority leader of the Senate , vowed that any nomination from President Barack Obama would be blocked and not acted upon. He said that choosing a successor should occur after the presidential election in November, 2016 when the voice of the people would be heard. This startling declaration was in direct conflict with the United States Constitution which states that the President nominates a successor when a vacancy appears. And the Senate has the responsibility to advise and consent on the nominee. There has never been a time in our history when the Senate has refused categorically to fulfill their required role.
During the weeks since then, President Obama moved ahead with his responsibility. He carefully studied the records of possible candidates while the political world speculated on the names of judges who might qualify for the open seat. Would he choose another woman? Or a minority to satisfy his liberal advocates? Will he or she be young to have a lasting tenure? Many names floated and were hotly debated on cable news shows. The suspense ended on Wednesday morning, March 15 when President Obama made his announcement in the Rose Garden. He introduced Merrick Garland, the Chief Judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals as his choice for the Supreme Court. He said, “I’ve selected a nominee who is widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness, and excellence.”
Merrick Garland, 63, a judge for l9 years has drawn praise from both Democrats and Republicans in Washington. The Second Circuit in D.C. is considered the most important appeals court in the nation; Garland became chief three years ago. He is viewed as a moderate and centrist in his decisions without strong political ideology. In April, 1995, Garland was a deputy attorney general when the Oklahoma City bombing took place. He watched toddlers’ bodies being taken out on television and said to his superior, “You’ve got to let me go out there.” Within days, he was on the ground and ended up , starting the case against the bombers and supervising their prosecution.
Within minutes of the announcement, Senator McConnell claimed that President Obama made his choice, “not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed, but in order to politicize it for the purposes of the election.” The battle was joined when Republican candidates in the presidential race all jumped on board with McConnell’s argument that the people in the November election “should have a voice” in the appointment. They all ignored the fact that the people’s voice had come across loud and clear when they re-elected Barack Obama for a second term with overwhelming popular and electoral numbers.
On Thursday, March 16, the Democrats in the Senate moved ahead with the normal process of a Supreme Court Nominee coming to the Senate to meet one-on-one with the members of the Judiciary Committee. He met first with Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking member, and then with Senator Harry Reid, the Minority Leader. Reporters , of course, followed them closely , asking key questions as they walked through the halls. Cable news anchors gave full coverage , especially Senator McConnell ignoring the event and trying to move on to other “senate business.” At the end of the day, all senators left for a two week recess in their home districts. It would be certain that their refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination would be a hot topic at home. Certain Republican senators are in tight races for re-election in November : Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Mark Kirk in Illinois, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire , Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Rob Portman in Ohio. Democratic opponents will be asking them in ads and debates if they will meet with Merrick Garland and vote on his confirmation.
As soon as Merrick Garland was nominated, advocacy groups lined up on both sides of the issue to support or object to Obama’s choice. In support were: Move.On.org, The Center for American Progress, People for The American Way, Americans United for Change, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and others. In opposition were: The Heritage Foundation, Freedom Works Foundation and the Judicial Crisis Network starting a $2million dollar television, radio and digital media campaign in New Hampshire, Colorado, Ohio and and West Viriginia. MoveOn is organizing more than 50 rallies around the United States on Monday, mostly in offices of Republican senators. The Koch brothers are expected to join the opposition with significant dollars.
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has backed Mitch McConnell in his rigid position. However, he too is up for re-election to his seventh term in the Senate. He has said already that he will meet with Merrick Garland when the two week recess ends. Grassley will hear the slogan, “Do Your Job!” many times in the weeks ahead in Iowa. Political observers believe that pressure will build during the recess for Grassley to convene the committee and hold hearings. He has the authority to do that as chair. We may have to wait until April to learn what happens next in this on-going political battle to fill the vacancy on The Supreme Court of The United States.