Republicans Promise to Block Obama’s Supreme Court Nom

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wasted no time in reiterating his position on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee on Wednesday, promising that the Republican-dominated Senate would not even consider confirmation hearings. McConnell, who made a public statement after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month, has said that the American people deserve to have a say in how his conservative seat is filled. And though Obama went out of his way to pick a nominee – Merrick B. Garland – who might be palatable to Republicans – McConnell remains resolute.

“The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration,” McConnell said. “The next president may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”

In announcing the nomination, Obama used the occasion to pressure Republicans to cave. “I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up-or-down vote,” Obama said in the Rose Garden. “If you don’t, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair.”

While McConnell dismissed the president’s warnings, other Republican senators have swayed from the hardline approach. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are among several senators who have said they would be willing to meet with Judge Garland. Other Republicans have said that they might be open to confirmation hearings on Garland if Hillary Clinton is elected in November.

While Obama has presented Garland as a moderate and activist groups have criticized the president for the benign pick, the 63-year-old appellate judge is not as apolitical as some would suggest. He has been described by gun-rights groups as fiercely opposed to the Second Amendment; the NRA released a scathing ad warning that Garland would vote to remove the individual right to bear arms. Garland, in 2007, voted to uphold Washington D.C.’s handgun ban, a decision that was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

Republicans are facing a difficult choice either way. If they cave and confirm, voters will see it as yet another instance of tough talk followed by inevitable capitulation. If they dig their feet in the sand, though, there could be also be blowback; polls have shown that the majority of Americans want the hearings to go forward. More to the point, it is entirely possible that Clinton will win the White House and that Democrats will take back the Senate in November. If that happens, it could give the new president a green light to fill Scalia’s seat with a liberal that would make Ruth Bader Ginsberg look like Rush Limbaugh.