The Senate Republican blockade of the Supreme Court is holding—for now.
Within moments of President Obama’s announcement that he was nominating Judge Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the high Court, top Republicans reiterated their longstanding vow to ignore him. “It is a president’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor speech minutes after Obama and Garland finishing speaking in the White House Rose Garden.
Other senior GOP senators backed McConnell immediately, issuing statements that appeared to be written weeks ago, with Garland’s name added at the last minute. Some didn’t even mention him at all, and that was by design: Where Obama is trying to sell Garland based on his impeccable legal résumé, his judicial centrism, and his selfless devotion to public service, Republicans have committed to opposing him solely on the argument that the presidential election should determine who fills Scalia’s seat. Invoking a 24-year-old speech by Vice President Biden, McConnell said the GOP’s position was “about a principle, not a person.”
In choosing Garland, Obama hopes he is making Republicans an offer they can’t refuse. He bypassed more diverse and clearly progressive choices likely to inspire the Democratic base in favor of a 63-year-old white man who in 2010 had been held up by Senator Orrin Hatch, a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, as “a consensus nominee” for the Supreme Court. Six years later, the president called his bluff. “I think highly of Judge Garland. But his nomination doesn’t in any way change current circumstances,” Hatch said in a statement. “I remain convinced that the best way for the Senate to do its job is to conduct the confirmation process after this toxic presidential election season is over.” Hatch was one of seven Republicans currently serving in the Senate who voted to confirm Garland to his current post on the Courts of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He was a nominee of President Clinton, and the full vote was 76-23.