Is this political bluff or gotcha?
Apparently we’re about to find out now that President Obama has chosen widely respected Merrick Garland as his nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
(Read: Who is Merrick Garland?)
When Scalia died, Senate Republicans vowed not to consider any replacement nominated by Obama. The next president should get to fill that post, they argue.
Before a luncheon in Washington, D.C. last Friday, the conservative website Newsmax asked Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, for his thoughts on the Supreme Court situation.
Do you think Obama will nominate a black or Hispanic judge to make it more difficult for the Republicans to say no to a replacement during an election year, Newsmax asked him?
“He could be headed in that direction,” said Hatch. “This (nomination process) is all about the election.
“The President told me several times he’s going to name a moderate (to fill the court vacancy), but I don’t believe him.
“(Obama) could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man. He probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election. So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the (liberal Democratic base) wants.”
In his Wednesday morning announcement, Obama quoted past praise for Garland from both Chief Justice John Roberts and Hatch, a long-time supporter of the appeals court judge.
In 2010 when Garland was considered for the Supreme Court post that eventually went to Sonia Sotomayor, Hatch called Garland a “consensus nominee” who would unquestionably be confirmed if nominated.
“The Garland nomination ... appears to be an attempt to box in Senate Republicans who’ve refused to confirm anyone Obama nominates,” the progressive news blog ThinkProgress wrote on Wednesday.
“There are strong reasons to doubt whether this strategy will work, however. Sen. Hatch, who undoubtedly regrets his decision to praise Garland shortly before this nomination, has outright refused to meet with anyone Obama nominates to replace Scalia.”
Hatch’s previous support for Garland as a Supreme Court justice was also referenced in a four-page document circulated Tuesday afternoon among a small group of Obama allies, according to The Washington Post.
“Garland has had a distinguished legal career, and prior to the GOP’s historically unprecedented obstruction, was a favorite of Senate Republicans alongside progressives,” the briefing document said.
“When earlier Supreme Court vacancies occurred in the seats now filled by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said he would be ‘very well supported by all sides’ as a SCOTUS nominee.”
Reaction to Garland’s nomination is largely mixed, ranging from political observers calling him a “sensible” choice to Republican lawmakers saying “we’ll take a meeting with him.”
And comic book fans were happy to hear that he is one of them.
(See reaction from Missouri and Kansas lawmakers here.)
Some people think Obama wasted a chance to add more women, and racial diversity, to the court.
“President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court is extremely disappointing,” writes Mark Joseph Stern for Slate.
“Garland ... is about as mainstream as they come: a white, Harvard-educated Chicago boy who bounced between white-shoe firms and the Justice Department before President Bill Clinton placed him on the D.C. Circuit in 1997. Garland is the type of Washington elite who could’ve been placed on the court at almost any time over the past century.”
National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill praised Garland for “ a rigorous intellect, impeccable credentials, and a record of excellence.”
But she also said his record on women’s rights was “more or less a blank slate. Equally unfortunate is that we have to continue to wait for the first African American woman to be named. For this nomination, the so-called political experts ruled that the best choice for the highest court in the nation was a cipher — a real nowhere man.”
Politico reported that a handful of Senate Republicans said they would meet with Garland.
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, facing a tough reelection campaign, said she would use the meeting to explain face-to-face why she opposes naming anyone to replace Scalia before a new president is elected.
“He's a current appeals court judge and out of courtesy and respect we will certainly meet with him if he would like to meet with me,” Ayotte told Politico.
“I would want to explain my position to the nominee ... I would want to give him that courtesy.”