A strong majority of Minnesotans say that the U.S. Senate should immediately hold confirmation hearings and vote on Merrick Garland’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
Only 34 percent of Minnesotans say the Republicans-controlled Senate should hold off and let the next president select a justice for the nation’s highest court.
Minnesotans also overwhelmingly approve of Garland as President Obama’s nominee, the poll found. Only 22 percent do not approve of the selection.
Support for Garland is highest in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, at 65 percent, compared with 45 percent among residents in outstate Minnesota. Statewide, Garland has the most support among women, seniors and DFLers.
“Obama’s job is to offer a nominee and he has come up with someone who seems to be very even and fair,” said poll respondent Daonna Depoister, a Plymouth DFLer. “It is the obligation of the Republicans to make a decision … based on facts and based on information and by educating themselves about this person.”
The Senate GOP’s efforts to delay the vote has strong approval from Minnesota Republicans, signaling that the political division on the issue is not hurting themselves among the party faithful. Statewide, 60 percent of Republicans favor letting the next president decide, with 30 percent saying senators should call a vote soon.
Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February has ignited a bitter battle between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic White House on who should replace the outspoken conservative jurist. With the court now evenly divided between conservative and liberal judges, Scalia’s successor could tip the balance in either direction for decades.
Senate Republicans are refusing to allow a vote on the nomination of Garland, who is chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, saying they will wait until the next president takes office in January.
GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a group Kentucky Republicans in March the stakes are too high “to give Barack Obama the opportunity to turn the Supreme Court to the left.”
The White House is applying intense political pressure on Republicans to act before Obama leaves office in January. The president has been making the rounds on TV stations in areas where Senate Republicans are vulnerable in the November election. Democratic U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken have met with Garland and say they strongly support his nomination.
In Minnesota, Republicans are evenly split on Garland’s qualifications. Another 38 percent of Republicans say they are undecided. Independents are inclined to favor Garland, with 45 percent supportive and 28 percent who do not find him suitable.
The poll of 800 registered voters in Minnesotans was conducted last week and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Big Lake resident Scott Brown is among the 18 percent of Minnesotans who think the Supreme Court is too conservative. He believes the addition of Garland would bring the court to a political balance.
“Regardless of who gets put on the Supreme Court, leaving the seat vacant is unacceptable,” said Brown, a poll respondent who does not consider himself aligned with Democrats or Republicans. “They should make a decision instead of playing the political game of, ‘We’re going to wait and see if we get our guy in office.’ … The person that Obama picked for the seat is more than suitable.”
A little over a quarter of Minnesotans say the court is too liberal, compared with 44 percent who say it is already ideologically balanced.
Carmen Hinajosa Ramirez, a disabled veteran who lives in Walker, is worried that the court is too left-leaning. She reflects the wide disparity in political views between Hennepin and Ramsey counties, where 9 percent of voters find the court too liberal, and outstate Minnesota, where 39 percent of residents think the same.
She is also among the 22 percent of poll respondents who disapprove of Garland.
Ramirez doesn’t trust Obama — or anyone he would nominate to the court — and objects to his actions on gun rights, illegal immigration and health care.
She is particularly concerned about Garland’s strong anti-gun beliefs.
“The Second Amendment was put there for a very good reason — so that we can protect ourselves against tyranny — and he’s going to take that away from us,” she said.
The National Rifle Association has come out strongly against Garland, voicing concern that his appointment would tip the balance of the court against gun rights. The organization has said that the addition of Garland to the court would give it enough votes to overturn key rulings upholding the right to bear arms.
She wants the Senate to wait until a new president takes office — preferably a Republican — and puts forth another nominee.
Poll respondent Lavon Holmberg would rather have the next president choose the justice.
“Whoever they appoint is going to be there for a long, long time, so I think the next administration should be the one that appoints them,” said Holmberg, who supports GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump. “Whoever appoints them today is only going to be there for not even a year.”
But Annette Anderson, a poll respondent of Sturgeon Lake, said she believes Garland is a good choice and that the Senate should honor the president’s wishes. Holding up the process is “not fair, not nice, and it’s rude, really.”
“I think they need to honor our president and go ahead and at least have hearings,” she said. “The hearings are for them to make a choice — they can still not choose the nominee.”