PD Editorial: President Obama did his duty; the Senate should too

By nominating Judge Merrick Garland to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Barack Obama fulfilled his constitutional obligation.

It’s time for the U.S. Senate to do the same.

Garland, the chief judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, deserves a confirmation hearing and a vote.

Senate Republicans say they won’t even give him the time of day.

Moments after Obama’s announcement, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went to the Senate floor and doubled down on the GOP’s refusal to consider any Obama nominee for the high court. McConnell claimed that Obama acted “not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election.”

Balderdash. It’s the Senate GOP, not the president, playing politics with the Supreme Court and, by extension, the public’s faith in the independence of the judicial branch.

Republicans proclaimed their opposition before there was a nominee, demonstrating yet again their reflexive antagonism toward anyone, or anything, supported by Obama.

Knowing that GOP senators don’t even plan to meet with his nominee, the president could have used his selection to mobilize his own party’s liberal base ahead of the November election.

With his choice, Obama played it straight.

Garland is a centrist member of the nation’s most influential appeals court, where he regularly handles the kind of complicated issues that find their way on to the Supreme Court’s docket. With a 19-year record, he is a known quantity, unlikely to surprise anyone with his legal views.

On the D.C. Circuit Court, Garland has often deferred to executive agencies on regulatory matters while showing a pro-prosecution bent on criminal cases. Chief Justice John Roberts, a former colleague on the appeals court, once said that “any time Judge Garland disagrees, you know you’re in a difficult area.”

Before joining the court, Garland earned high marks as assistant attorney general for supervising the investigation and successful prosecution of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and unabomer Ted Kaczynski.

Some liberal groups expressed disappointment with the president’s choice, but just last week, GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said that if Obama truly was seeking a moderate, he could “easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man.”

Moreover, at 63, Garland is the oldest Supreme Court nominee in 45 years, a tacit concession to Republicans concerned about a young, liberal justice changing the balance on the court for years to come.

McConnell and fellow Republicans argue that the voters should have a say in filling the vacancy created by the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the leader of the court’s conservative wing. It doesn’t take an originalist to know that voters don’t pick justices. Presidents do, and voters elected Obama to serve as president for eight full years.

When it comes to appointments, neither party has clean hands. Democrats and Republicans have used parliamentary maneuvers and plain old obstinance to sidetrack nominations by presidents from the other party. Continuing that toxic patter would only foment more gridlock and feed public disgust with the political process.

There is no precedent for leaving a Supreme Court seat open in an election year. Doing so now would leave the high court short-handed for the rest of this term and the first half of its next term. Only once in history has a seat on the court stayed open that long – and only because senators twice rejected presidential nominees. But they didn’t ignore them.

Denying Garland an up-or-down vote would be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty.

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