It’s a shame that Merrick Garland is likely to be best remembered as the answer to a trivia question about a U.S. Supreme Court nominee who never received a Senate hearing. Garland and the court — along with the American people — deserve better.
By all accounts, Garland is a well-qualified jurist who, at the very least, should receive Senate Judiciary Committee consideration and a vote. A centrist appeals-court judge, Garland has won bipartisan support in the past, along with praise from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. He was confirmed to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997 with majority support from both parties, including seven current GOP senators. But more than hairstyles have changed since then.
Republicans made it clear shortly after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia that they would rather let the seat stay open than allow President Obama to name a replacement during the last year of his presidency, disingenuously arguing — in the words of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — that their opposition is based on a desire to “give the people a voice in filling this vacancy.”
Americans do have a voice: They elected Obama (twice), as well as members of the Judiciary Committee, and most voters no doubt trusted that their representatives would respect the importance of the nation’s highest federal court. But McConnell and his cohorts seem intent on disregarding the Constitution, however they may interpret it. Unless the political gamesmanship gives way to leadership, the weakened court could reach 4-4 decisions, setting no legal precedent, for a year or more.
Defending their obstructionism, Republicans have pointed to the example of Vice President Joe Biden, who while chairing the Judiciary Committee in 1992 argued that should a Supreme Court seat become vacant — there were no open seats at the time — then-President George H.W. Bush should not forward a nomination until after the November election. In our view, Biden was just as wrongheaded then as Republicans are today.
Polls conducted after Scalia’s death but before Garland’s nomination showed that a majority of Americans believed the Senate should hold hearings. In an election year in which voters in both parties have made clear their disdain for dysfunction in Washington, Obama fulfilled his constitutional responsibility. We’ll soon learn if Senate Republicans, as expected, will fail to live up to their own.