The political olive branch


In nominating federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, President Barack Obama has met Republican senators at least halfway. The 63-year-old nominee does not appear to present an ideological challenge to the Senate majority, so there appears to be little for them to fear. But even without that, the GOP leadership’s denial of an up or down vote on the nomination — exactly the kind of advice and consent that the Constitution requires — abrogates the Senate’s responsibility and will further diminish Congress’ standing in the eyes of the American public.

A short few hours after Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky drew his line in the sand on a replacement: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” he declared. But what McConnell called “a check and a balance” — waiting nearly a year for new elections, a new Congress and a new president — is an abuse of “majority” power and a failure to live up to a constitutional mandate.

McConnell also famously said years ago that he was working to make Obama a one-term president. Look where that strategy got him (and us): a government shutdown, sequestration, failure of commonsense gun control and seemingly endless failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. With their stubborn refusal to consider the Garland nomination, Republicans are continuing down the same path of obstruction. And there will, undoubtedly, be consequences.

What is ironic is that not only is Garland considered a moderate, but he already has received favorable votes from some who would now deny him a hearing. Seven of the Republican senators who confirmed Garland for the federal bench in 1997 are still in office. One of them, Judiciary Committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah recommended days before Obama made his announcement, “[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man.”

The Garland nomination is what a political olive branch looks like. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have missed the point or are ignoring the proposed compromise. “Under our Constitution, the president has every right to make this nomination, and the Senate has every right not to confirm a nominee,” said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

True enough. But “the right not to confirm” should follow careful consideration of the nominee. The president has exercised his right. Now, it’s the Senate’s responsibility to vet Garland and, after proper hearings, to approve or disapprove of the nomination. By ignoring the nomination and denying Garland a fair and open hearing, Republicans are living up to their reputation as the party of “No!” It is very hard to respect that.

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