At a Rose Garden press conference this morning, President Obama announced Merrick Garland, an appeals court judge (and second cousin of Gov. Terry Branstad), as his nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the late Antonin Scalia. The centrist pick, respected among D.C. insiders, presents a challenge to Republicans to balance their continued vows not to hold hearings on a nominee while Obama is still in office with the potential repercussions of appearing obstructionist in doing so.
One of the men who matters most in this calculation, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, is holding firm on his refusal to allow his committee to hold hearings. In a press release issued after the ruling, he said: “Today the President has exercised his constitutional authority. A majority of the Senate has decided to fulfill its constitutional role of advice and consent by withholding support for the nomination during a presidential election year, with millions of votes having been cast in highly charged contests.” He added, “As Vice President Biden previously said, it’s a political cauldron to avoid,” referring to a statement Biden made in 1992 about a hypothetical court vacancy.
Grassley already has a record of voting against Garland. In 1997, he (and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) were two of the 23 votes against his successful confirmation to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his statement, Grassley also said the election year provided a chance for the American people to not be “denied a voice” in an “honest and sincere” debate about Scalia’s successor and again used a statement Obama had made about how his eventual nominee would make “‘just decisions and fair outcomes’ based on the application of ‘life experience’ to the ‘rapidly changing times,'” knocking it as an inappropriate “empathy standard.”
From the left, Garland’s centrism, particularly his conservative record on criminal justice issues, will likely disappoint those hoping for a more progressive nominee.