President Obama effectively took the issue of qualifications off the table when he picked Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. In any other year, Judge Garland’s nomination would be a sure-fire bet to win quick Senate approval.
Judge Garland is a sitting appeals court judge with a much admired record and a history of bipartisan support who has managed to win Senate approval for the bench while drawing virtually no criticism. Over the years, Republicans have praised his record and suitability for the bench.
Their support has been based on his undeniably formidable résumé: high-ranking Justice Department lawyer; supervisor of the prosecutorial teams that convicted Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing and the Unabomber; and a sterling record on the bench, with a reputation as a judicial moderate.
His current position is one of the most prominent on the federal bench: chief judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In short, he’s had an extraordinarily distinguished legal career, tailor-made for a seat on the nation's highest judicial tribunal.
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Unfortunately, a great record and all the qualifications in the world are no match for partisan politics amid the volcanic election cycle of 2016. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his GOP allies have made the craven political calculation that voters will not punish them for putting political expediency above constitutional duty.
Mr. McConnell’s fellow Republicans have vowed to refuse Judge Garland — or any other Obama nominee — the courtesy of a meeting, not to mention an actual hearing and an up-or-down vote. By way of explanation, they offer a transparently political reason for their objection: Filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court, they say, is too important to consider in an election year.
By that logic, nothing whatsoever can be accomplished in an election year, regardless of what the Constitution says about the tenure and powers of the president and the duties and responsibilities of the Senate. It is a preposterous position, totally without merit or precedent.
The Senate has frequently withheld consent for nominations to the court. Richard Nixon lost two nominees in a row during his first term. But refusing to even hear from the nominee represents an act of contempt that should be beneath the dignity of the Senate.
What, we wonder, could they fear from hearings? That Judge Garland would put his qualifications on display for the entire country to see for itself?
In picking Judge Garland, Mr. Obama took up the challenge offered by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who only days ago said he would be an ideal choice: “The president told me several times he’s going to name a moderate, but I don’t believe him,” said the senator, adding that the president “could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man.”
Well, Sen. Hatch, the president’s done what he said he would. It’s time for members of the Senate to do their job.