March 17, 2016
The Opinion Pages | Editorial
by The Editorial Board
If you tried to create the ideal moderate Supreme Court nominee in a laboratory, it would be hard to do better than Judge Merrick Garland.
In nominating Judge Garland to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month, President Obama has taken his constitutional duty seriously, choosing a deeply respected federal appellate judge with an outstanding intellect, an impeccable legal record, and the personal admiration of Republicans and Democrats.
And yet, within minutes of Mr. Obama’s announcement in the Rose Garden on Wednesday morning, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, was again outrageously claiming that Mr. Obama made his pick “not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed, but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election.”
He again vowed not to hold hearings until after Mr. Obama leaves office. But there is no reason to believe that Mr. McConnell and his party will hold hearings at all. What they have claimed is blanket authority to veto any nominee before hearings or a vote takes place. This is a dangerous new role for the Senate, one that could turn the court into nothing more than a group of black-robed politicians.
Under normal, even routinely partisan, circumstances, Judge Garland would sail through confirmation hearings and be confirmed by the Senate in a matter of months, if not weeks. That was obvious to Senator Orrin Hatch, the senior Republican from Utah who sits on the Judiciary Committee, who in 2010 called Mr. Garland a “consensus nominee” and said there would be “no question” that he would be confirmed to the Supreme Court with bipartisan support.
Just last week, Mr. Hatch repeated his praise, saying that if Mr. Obama wanted a real moderate, he “could easily” name Mr. Garland, but predicted that “he probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election.”
But we are no longer operating in the realm of sense or normality. The Republican Party is staring down the very strong possibility that Donald Trump will be the party’s presidential candidate. And now, its leaders, in a stupendous show of political malfeasance, are putting the Supreme Court’s constitutional duties on hold while they make dishonest claims about “letting the people’s voice be heard.”
There is some irony to the Republican rejection of Judge Garland, a 63-year-old white man, who might be considered too moderate for Democrats hoping that the next justice would have a more liberal legal record. It is a choice that does not bring more diversity the court.
In his 19 years on the bench, Judge Garland has established a solidly centrist voting record that reflects no strong political ideology. He has sided with the government in cases involving habeas corpus petitions from detainees at Guantánamo Bay, and has voted against criminal defendants more often than his liberal colleagues have. He has generally voted in favor of deferring to the considered decisions of federal agencies. In civil rights cases, he has voted in favor of plaintiffs who have claimed rights violations.
None of this matters to Senate Republicans, who have pledged that there will be no hearings, no vote — and with a few exceptions, not even the courtesy of a meeting with Judge Garland. They have said that if he were to appear before the Senate, he would be treated like a “piñata.”
This intransigence is unlikely to win votes for the party in November. Americans strongly oppose the Republican blockade, which is unprecedented in the nation’s history. As Mr. Obama said Wednesday, “I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up-or-down vote.” If they do not, he said, the process of nominating Supreme Court justices — one of the most important jobs of any president — will be “beyond repair.”
Mr. Obama has picked a strong nominee, who won bipartisan support in his confirmation to the appeals court. If the Republicans refuse to accept him, they will face one of two scenarios: a nominee selected by Hillary Clinton, who may well be more liberal, or one chosen by President Donald Trump — a racist, vulgar demagogue who many Republicans have said is unfit to run the country.