Supreme Court Nominations

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  • Newspaper Editorials Slam McCain For Unprecedented Pledge To Block Any Clinton Nominee For Supreme Court

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Newspaper editorial boards are sharply criticizing Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for promising that he and his fellow Republican senators would block any and all nominees for the Supreme Court put forth by a President Hillary Clinton, noting that McCain’s promise upends the GOP’s stated reasons for refusing to even hold a vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

  • What Supreme Court Experts Want You To Know Before The Last Presidential Debate

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON & PAM VOGEL

    The Supreme Court will be one of the topics discussed at the final presidential debate of this election, moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace on October 19. Supreme Court reporters and legal experts have been explaining the significance of the court throughout the election season, because of the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February and the implications for the ideological direction of the court stemming from the election of a new president.

  • USA Today Excoriates Senate GOP For “Flat-Out Ignoring” SCOTUS Vacancy

    Ed. Board: Senate Republicans Should “Put Politics Aside And Give Judge Garland A Hearing And A Vote”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The USA Today editorial board renewed its call for Senate Republicans to hold a hearing and a vote on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, who has been awaiting confirmation hearings since March 16, pointing out that the GOP leadership’s reasoning for the blockade is “unprecedented" and “hypocritical,” and noting that “even prominent Republicans” are calling for action on the nomination.

    On August 9 -- 146 days after Judge Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court in the face of a conservative media-driven smear campaign -- the USA Today editorial board once again called for Senate Republicans to do “the best thing for the court, the country and the Constitution,” and hold a hearing and a vote on Garland’s nomination. The board argued that the GOP is engaging in a “hypocritical posture” by denying a hearing before the presidential election while hinting at a potential change in course should Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton win the race in November.

    USA Today’s latest editorial continues a months-long drumbeat of widespread support for a Senate vote on the Garland nomination -- including from other national and state editorial boards, from prominent legal experts across the ideological spectrum, and from voters. As USA Today noted, “the problem” is “not Garland,” as even well-known conservative legal minds “have said that the time to act was yesterday.”

    From the August 9 editorial:

    Congress failing to act isn't exactly breaking news. It's tied in knots on a range of issues, from the budget and trade to creating jobs and controlling guns. But flat-out ignoring a vacancy on the nation's highest court, which Senate Republicans have vowed to do while President Obama remains in office, is an abrogation of its constitutional duty.

    [...]

    So what's the problem? Not Garland. He has been lauded by every group that has reviewed his qualifications. Even prominent Republicans, such as former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor and former U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales, have said that the time to act was yesterday.

    Yet from day one, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear that Republicans simply could not let Obama replace Scalia. Despite GOP leaders' obvious unease with Donald Trump as their standard-bearer, they want to hand him the vacancy to fill.

    [...]

    Translation: The Scalia seat may await Trump, but not Hillary Clinton. If she wins — or even if it looks like she will — all bets are off, because Clinton could ditch Garland for someone far younger or further left, and the GOP gambit will have backfired.

    That's a hypocritical posture for Republicans to take. Either this is Obama's seat to fill or it isn't. When the Senate returns in September, it should put politics aside and give Judge Garland a hearing and a vote. It's the best thing for the court, the country and the Constitution.

  • Editorial Boards Blame Republican Obstruction For Supreme Court's Immigration Impasse

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Numerous editorial boards slammed the Supreme Court’s “maddening” and “depressing” “nondecision” in United States v. Texas that upheld a federal court’s decision to block President Obama’s executive action on immigration that temporarily relieved millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. The editorial boards blamed the impasse -- which “condemned” millions to “live in the shadows” -- on congressional Republicans’ obstruction of Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, as well as their failure to pass immigration reform.

  • Wash. Post Debunks Mitch McConnell’s “Absurd” Claim That Merrick Garland Is Ideologically Extreme

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post’s editorial board criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) “patently ridiculous” claim that Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland is ideologically extreme.

    Since Garland’s nomination in March, groups like the Judicial Crisis Network, the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Rifle Association have made numerous false and misleading claims about Garland’s record to portray him as ideologically extreme. In fact, conservatives have praised Garland for years and multiple prominent conservative lawyers have announced their support for Garland’s nomination.

    In a June 5 editorial, the editorial board slammed McConnell’s “patently ridiculous” claim after he said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that “from a conservative point of view, I don’t think you could have a worse nominee than Merrick Garland.” The board wrote that it is “absurd” to call Garland a “worst-case scenario for Republicans,” noting, “Fellow judges from across the ideological spectrum [have] effusively praise[d] Mr. Garland” and that Garland’s record as a judge has “been careful and evenhanded.” From the June 5 piece:

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continues to insist that the GOP blockade of Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, is “about a principle, not a person.” The crucial principle that apparently justifies hobbling the Supreme Court is the newly invented notion that the president should be able to fill court vacancies during only three-quarters of his elected term.

    Mr. McConnell’s discovery of this principle has been as obvious a case of situational ethics as has ever been seen in Washington. Indeed, from the beginning, it was clear Republicans had more than proper procedure on their minds. “The next justice could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court and have a profound impact on our country,” Mr. McConnell warned in March.

    Now Mr. McConnell has gone a step further, making his opposition not simply cynical but patently ridiculous. In interviews last week, Mr. McConnell argued that Mr. Garland is ideologically extreme. “I don’t think you could have a worse — from a conservative point of view, I don’t think you could have a worse nominee than Merrick Garland,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I would say, he’s a well-qualified, very liberal judge,” he told NPR.

    It is absurd to claim that Mr. Garland, a nominee about whom many liberal groups are not excited, a judge whom Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) once called a “consensus nominee,” is the worst-case scenario for Republicans. Fellow judges from across the ideological spectrum effusively praise Mr. Garland. His work on the country’s second-most prominent court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has been careful and evenhanded. Mr. McConnell’s claims do not pass the laugh test — unless by “worst,” he means “most-qualified” and therefore most difficult plausibly to reject.

    Mr. McConnell’s admission that Mr. Garland is “well-qualified” should end the discussion. The president gets to nominate; the Senate gets to object in extraordinary circumstances, but has an obligation to confirm if nominees are, as in this case, obviously qualified and within the mainstream of judicial thinking. No other arrangement can keep the system working. But the majority leader obviously has other considerations in mind.

  • Law Professors: Republicans’ “Historically Unprecedented” Refusal To Consider Any Obama SCOTUS Nominee Creates “Constitutional Risks”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Republicans’ stated plan to block any nomination to the Supreme Court by President Obama is “historically unprecedented,” according to an analysis of every Supreme Court nomination. The analysis notes that “the Senate has only refused to consider a President’s Supreme Court nominations in the highly unusual circumstance where the nominating President’s status as the most recently elected President has been in doubt.”

    According to the analysis, authored by University of Illinois College of Law professors Robin Bradley Kar and Jason Mazzone, Senate Republicans’ “major departure from more than two centuries of historical tradition” poses the risk that “no future Supreme Court Justice will be appointable unless the President and the Senate are of the same political party.”

    As the authors explained, circumstances similar to President Obama’s -- where an elected president is presented with a Supreme Court vacancy prior to the election of his successor -- have occurred 103 times in U.S. history. In each of those instances, the Senate voted to confirm a judge nominated by that president to fill the vacancy.

    Kar and Mazzone warn that Republicans’ insistence on rejecting this longstanding historical precedent creates “historic, pragmatic, and constitutional risks” and urge that “Senate Republican leaders should reconsider their current plan” (internal citations removed, emphasis original):

    In particular, history suggests that while there may be no general duty on the part of the Senate to provide advice and consent with respect to every nomination to a federal office that a President may make, the Supreme Court presents a special case. As we show, the Senate has only refused to consider a President’s Supreme Court nominations in the highly unusual circumstance where the nominating President’s status as the most recently elected President has been in doubt. Once this fact is recognized, it will become clear that the Republican plan is historically unprecedented and entails more extensive pragmatic and constitutional risks than have thus far been recognized. These risks may well outweigh the originally perceived benefits of the plan, even to Senate Republicans.

    […]

    Part I therefore begins with a close look at the entire relevant history. By examining every Supreme Court appointment process in U.S. history, we uncover a principled but underappreciated distinction between cases where the Senate has provided advice and consent on particular Supreme Court nominees—by considering them (and either confirming, rejecting, or resisting them on the merits using a wide array of senatorial procedures)—and cases where the Senate has sought deliberately to transfer a sitting President’s complete Supreme Court appointment powers to a successor. We show that tactics of the latter kind have always been limited to the unusual circumstance where there were contemporaneous questions concerning the status of the nominating President as the most recently elected President. More specifically, all such cases involved a President who either (a) attained office by succession rather than election or (b) began the nomination process after the election of his successor. Neither circumstance applies to President Obama’s nomination of Judge Garland. Moreover, bracketing these highly unusual circumstances, we show that there have been 103 prior cases in which—as in the case of Obama’s nomination of Garland -- an elected President nominated someone to fill an actual Supreme Court vacancy and began the nomination process prior to the election of a successor. In all 103 cases, which go back all the way to the earliest days of the Republic, the sitting President was able to both nominate and appoint a replacement Justice -- by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, and regardless of the senatorial rules and procedures in place. Hence, in none of the 103 cases that most closely resemble the current controversy has a sitting President been unable to fill an existing Supreme Court vacancy with some nominee.

    The historical rule that best accounts for the entire history of Supreme Court appointments is thus the following: Although the Senate has the constitutional power to provide advice and consent on particular Supreme Court nominees (and hence to reject or resist individual nominees on the merits), the Senate may only deliberately transfer one President’s Supreme Court appointment powers to an unknown successor -- as Senate Republicans are currently attempting to do with their plan -- if there are contemporaneous questions about the status of the nominating President as the most recently elected President. There are no such credible questions about President Obama’s status. Hence, while Senate Republicans have framed their opposition to the nomination of Judge Garland as hewing to historical practices, their plan in fact presents a major departure from more than two centuries of historical tradition.

    […]

    The logical terminus of the current Republican plan may also be that no future Supreme Court Justice will be appointable unless the President and the Senate are of the same political party. Such a result can only lead to a more -- rather than less -- politicized appointment process and, ultimately, to a more politicized Court.

    […]

    In order to avoid the historic, pragmatic, and constitutional risks we set forth, Senate Republican leaders should reconsider their current plan. They should not breach a tradition that goes back more than two centuries and began in the earliest days of the Republic. They should instead do what has always been done in similar circumstances. They should proceed to full Senate consideration of Judge Garland or any other nominee that President Obama puts forth in a timely manner.

    h/t Geoffrey R. Stone

  • NY Times Editorial Board Slams Republican Obstruction On Garland Confirmation In Light Of Zubik V. Burwell Punt

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The New York Times editorial board slammed Senate Republicans’ ongoing obstruction of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, explaining that the inability to resolve the Zubik v. Burwell case shows the harm in a court “without a full bench.”

    On May 16, the Supreme Court handed down an unsigned per curiam opinion on the high-profile Zubik v. Burwell case, remanding the lawsuit back to a federal appeals court for further consideration of how religious accommodations are granted within the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

    The New York Times editorial board pointed out that this type of opinion, which does not create Supreme Court precedent but instead allows for the potential to revisit similar cases in the future, illustrates the harm in Senate Republican’ ongoing obstruction of Merrick Garland’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. The Times’ editorial board lamented that opinions such as Zubik “leave millions of Americans waiting for justice or clarity as major legal questions are unresolved,” and concluded that “despite what Senate Republicans may say,” the Zubik punt showed that “the court cannot do its job without a full bench.”

    From the May 16 editorial (emphasis added):

    Every day that passes without a ninth justice undermines the Supreme Court’s ability to function, and leaves millions of Americans waiting for justice or clarity as major legal questions are unresolved.

    On Monday, the eight-member court avoided issuing a ruling on one of this term’s biggest cases, Zubik v. Burwell, which challenges the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers’ health care plans cover the cost of birth control for their employees. In an unsigned opinion, the court sent the lawsuits back to the lower federal courts, with instructions to try to craft a compromise that would be acceptable to everyone.

    This is the second time since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February that the court has failed to reach a decision in a high-profile case; in March, the court split 4 to 4 in a labor case involving the longstanding right of public-sector unions, which represent millions of American workers, to charge collective bargaining fees to nonmembers.

    [...]

    Unfortunately, the justices appear to be evenly split on this issue, as they may be on other significant cases pending before them.

    The court’s job is not to propose complicated compromises for individual litigants; it is to provide the final word in interpreting the Constitution and the nation’s laws. Despite what Senate Republicans may say about the lack of harm in the delay in filling the vacancy, the court cannot do its job without a full bench.

     

  • Des Moines Register: Sen. Grassley Has “Called Into Question His Own Integrity” In Blocking Supreme Court Nomination

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Des Moines Register’s editorial board wrote that Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) refusal to hold hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee “called into question” Grassley’s “own integrity” and could redefine the long-serving senator’s career. 

    On March 16, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Since then, The Des Moines Register and other Iowa papers have been vocal in calling for Grassley, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee and is in charge of initiating nomination hearings, to proceed with the nomination process. 

    The May 15 editorial claimed that Grassley’s obstruction of the nomination process gives the impression that the senator is “putting politics ahead of the national interest” and says that it isn’t just Democrats who disagree with Grassley. Citing poll numbers showing “67 percent of Americans favored Senate hearings on the Garland nomination,” the editorial demonstrated the public’s rejection of Grassley’s argument that the nomination process should be delayed until after the next election. 

    By announcing, within hours of Scalia’s death, his intent to prevent any Obama nominee from getting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley did more than stake out a controversial position on an issue. He called into question his own integrity and he created the appearance, at least, that he was putting politics ahead of the national interest.

    That’s not just the assessment of liberal Democrats, some of whom have expressed grudging respect for the senator over the years. Many Republicans are also deeply troubled by Grassley’s actions.

    Last week, a CNN poll found that 67 percent of Americans favored Senate hearings on the Garland nomination. Only 28 percent were opposed to hearings. Similar numbers were reported in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in mid-April. What’s more, both polls show that public support for confirmation hearings is rapidly growing.

    Grassley hasn’t helped his cause with his claim that by blocking any Obama nominee to the court, he is simply “letting the people have their say” on the matter this November.

    “Not very often do the people have a chance to express the view on, ‘Do you want a very liberal person put on the court or a conservative person put on the court?’” Grassley says.

    Not very often? More like never. Supreme Court justices aren’t selected through any sort of popular vote — and for good reason. They’re not politicians, and issues of constitutional rights are best not determined on Election Day.

    And that’s the fundamental and inescapable problem with Grassley’s contrived “let the people speak” rationale for refusing to hold hearings. It’s built on a framework of contradictory assumptions that conflict with past practice and the U.S. Constitution, and aren’t even grounded in reality:

    First, there’s the notion that the general public — not just the president and the Senate — ought to have some say in selecting Supreme Court justices via the November presidential election. It’s bizarre that Grassley, who often complains the court is “too politicized” and doesn’t adhere to strict readings of the Constitution, would even suggest this.

    Second, there’s the assumption that presidential elections are single-issue referendums as to what sort of justices belong on the high court. Even now, with Scalia’s seat publicly held hostage by Grassley, voters say they’re far more concerned with a dozen other domestic and foreign issues.

    And finally there’s Grassley’s inexplicable assertion that while we can’t rely on the last two presidential elections to determine the will of the people, we will be able to rely on the next one.

    Over the course of six terms in the U.S. Senate, three terms in the U.S. House, and 16 years in the Iowa Legislature, Grassley cultivated a reputation for being a fair-minded, hard-working, bipartisan lawmaker.

    That well-deserved reputation is now badly damaged — perhaps irretrievably so.
     

  • Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick Urges Media To Cover “Unprecedented” Obstruction Of Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court Nomination

    Lithwick Explains How Dearth Of Garland Coverage Contributes To False Perception That Voters Don’t Care About The Nomination

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Slate’s reporter on courts and the law, Dahlia Lithwick, highlights how Republican obstruction of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court and an election cycle filled with Donald Trump’s insults and hateful rhetoric have harmed coverage of the stalled confirmation process, even as it persists into “unprecedented” territory and affects the court’s ability to function effectively. Lithwick notes that despite reporters’ impressions that voters don’t care about Garland’s nomination, a recent poll shows nearly two-thirds of voters favor nomination hearings for Garland. For reporters looking for a “potential story,” Lithwick points to the impact ongoing obstructionism has had on “close Senate races,” the “millions already having been poured in” to the anti-Garland blockade by conservative groups, and confusion within the Republican Party on anti-Garland strategy. She concludes by acknowledging that “paper answers to questionnaires will never compete with stories about Donald Trump’s teeny tiny hands,” but implores media to “move forward” and find a way to cover the “brick wall of inaction” as the “nonconfirmation season” continues.

    From the May 10 article (emphasis added):

    The only experience more absurd these days than trying to actually be Merrick Garland —dutifully attending courtesy meetings that lack any meaningful courtesy and painfully enduring what is surely the most insulting nonconfirmation season in American history—is trying, as a journalist, to cover Merrick Garland and his stalled nomination.

    Because there is virtually nothing happening each day, there is virtually nothing to write about each day. And because we don’t write about it each day, voters continue not to know that it is going on each day. And since so many Americans don’t know about what isn’t happening to the empty seat at the Supreme Court each day, that all adds inexorably to the vague general impression that they must not care about it. And since they don’t seem to care about it, it hardly makes sense to write about it. Right?

    If we can all now agree that something isn’t news if it doesn’t insult Muslims or berate women, then I guess Merrick Garland isn’t news. And because Garland faces a brick wall of inaction, the handful of actions he does take seem completely futile.

    […]

    The result is that it’s been 55 days since the president announced Garland’s nomination, and the judge is now routinely banished to half a column on page A-14. This, despite the fact that the court is clearly operating in all sorts of diminished ways as a result of what will likely be a more-than-yearlong vacancy. As Washington Post reporter Robert Barnes recently noted, the court has accepted fewer cases for next term, and there is a question about how the big important issues now facing the court can be resolved in any definitive fashion this year.

    […]

    This is the lay of the land, and we in the media had best figure out how we are going to move forward with it: There is nothing interesting about nothing happening to a 63-year-old judge. Moreover, the court is, by design, secretive and built of paper, and stories about Merrick Garland’s paper answers to questionnaires will never compete with stories about Donald Trump’s teeny tiny hands. Even the fact that “everybody yawns” when told about a Supreme Court vacancy being blocked in an unprecedented manner in U.S. history isn’t a story. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be.

  • RedState Editors: With Trump As GOP Nominee, Senate Should Confirm Merrick Garland

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Editors of the conservative RedState blog are warning that since Donald Trump is now the GOP’s presumptive nominee for president, Senate Republicans should move to confirm Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland “before it is too late.”

    Redstate Managing Editor Leon H. Wolf, who has said that he will never vote for Trump, wrote in a May 4 post that Garland “is not a great choice, but is not a terrible one, either.” He continued that Senate Republicans should thus confirm Garland rather than allowing Hillary Clinton to name her own nominee after what he depicted as Trump's almost certain defeat in November. Fellow editors Ben Howe and Dan McLaughlin have also expressed support for the position. Wolf concluded:

    In fact, if I were the Republicans, my main concern right now would be that Barack Obama would withdraw Garland’s nomination today. The fact that Merrick Garland still exists as an option right now is a gift that should not be squandered.

    The calculus has changed – confirm Merrick Garland before it is too late.