The Slatest

How Washington and Everyone Else Is Reacting to President Obama’s SCOTUS Pick

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, announces his Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, right, in the Rose Garden at the White House on March 16.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court on Wednesday, putting a face to a partisan debate that had been raging since the late Justice Antonin Scalia died more than a month ago. You can read Slate’s analysis of Obama’s pick and what it means for the high court and for the 2016 election here. Below, we’ll be rounding up the reactions from key players as they come in throughout the day.

The general framework of the fight has been set in stone for weeks now: Senate Republicans have vowed not to hold a vote on Obama’s pick, or even schedule confirmation hearings. Instead, they say the next president should be the one to name Scalia’s replacement. The Democratic response, meanwhile, can be summed up by the new online clock that went live this morning that counts how long it has been since Obama’s announcement and, the website says, how long they’ve been waiting for the GOP-controlled Senate to “do its job.”


Key Senate Republicans

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking on CNN:

We think the people should choose as we’ve said repeatedly.

And on the floor of the Senate:

The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration. The next president may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.

It seems clear that President Obama made this nomination not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election.

Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which in a normal world would be expected to hold hearings on Garland, in a statement:

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. …

It’s also important to remember the type of nominee President Obama said he’s seeking.  He says his nominee will arrive at ‘just decisions and fair outcomes’ based on the application of ‘life experience’ to the ‘rapidly changing times.’  The so-called empathy standard is not an appropriate basis for selecting a Supreme Court nominee. … “A lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics. The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice.

Grassley voted against Garland’s confirmation in 1997 to his current position as the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Iowa senator’s opposition, though, wasn’t about Garland but because he thought that specific court already had too many judges on it. “The issue is not Mr. Garland,” a Grassley spokeswoman told the New York Times then. “Clearly the evidence does not support filling the vacancy at a cost to taxpayers of $1 million a year,” citing his estimate of the total cost of an extra judicial chamber.

Orrin Hatch, a senior Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, speaking shortly after Wednesday morning’s announcement was reported but before it was official: “The right course of action is to wait until the next year’s election … let the American people decide.

Making Hatch’s comments more than a little awkward is the fact he was one of seven sitting senators who voted to confirm Garland in 1997 to his current position. At the time, the Utah senator said Garland was “not only a fine nominee, but as good as Republicans can expect from [the Clinton] administration.”

During an interview Friday with the conservative website Newsmax, Hatch had this to say about Obama’s looming announcement: “He could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man,” before adding: “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.”

David Vitter of Louisiana, also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued the following statement: 

Rather than have an insider’s political tug-of-war between the President and the Senate over a Supreme Court nomination, the American people should decide through this year’s election. So I’ll be doing everything I can to give the American people a voice. The President is well within his constitutional authority to name a nominee – and the Senate is well within our constitutional authority to not hold hearings or a vote. President Obama has less than a year left, but a Supreme Court Justice will impact our country for decades, and this is something we shouldn’t take lightly.

John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, did not give an inch, issuing a press release in which he said:

“While the president has the constitutional authority to make a nomination to fill this vacancy, the Senate also has the authority and responsibility to determine how to move forward with it. At this critical juncture in our nation’s history, Texans and the American people deserve to have a say in the selection of the next lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. The only way to empower the American people and ensure they have a voice is for the next president to make the nomination to fill this vacancy.”

Mike Lee of Utah, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke to Fox News and reaffirmed that he will not support holding a hearing for Garland. “Look, we’ve been clear. All the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have made clear that this is a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land,” said Lee. “To fill a seat previously filed by a judicial icon, Antonin Scalia, we think that the American people need a chance to weigh in on this issue, on who will fill that seat. They’ll have that chance in November, and they ought to have that chance.”

Asked whether he knows Garland, Lee responded, “I don’t. I know a few things about him. I know he’s regarded as a progressive, fairly liberal judge. But that really isn’t the point here.”

Lee added: “I don’t care if they put my brother on there. I don’t care if they put Paul Clement or some other conservative icon like that. This is about the principle that we’re facing. This is about the fact that we’re coming up on a presidential election year.”

Kelly Ayotte, the senator from New Hampshire who is up for re-election, on Twitter:   

“Empowered with a lifetime appointment, the next Supreme Court justice will likely have a significant impact on the court and the people of our country for years. In the midst of a presidential election and a consequential debate about the future of our country, I believe the American people deserve to have a voice in the direction of the court. I continue to believe the Senate should not move forward with the confirmation process until the people have spoken by electing a new president.”

Ayotte also told Politico, “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. I would want to explain my position to the nominee…I would want to give him that courtesy.”

Mark Kirk of Illinois, facing a tough re-election race, issued a statement indicating he’d meet with Garland: “The Senate’s constitutionally defined role to provide advice and consent is as important as the president’s role in proposing a nominee, and I will assess Judge Merrick Garland based on his record and qualifications.” 

Jeff Flake of Arizona told the Hill he’d “meet with anybody,” adding, “I’m not going to speak for anybody else. I meet with people, that’s what I do.”

Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania split the baby in two, tweeting that if Garland is nominated by the next president, he “would be happy to carefully consider his nomination as I have done with dozens of judges submitted by President Obama.”

Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement reported by NBC News: “One thing I know for sure is that if the shoe was on the other foot, the Democratic leadership would not even entertain such an appointment coming from a Republican president.”

Richard Shelby of Alabama—who, as points out, voted against confirming Garland for a spot on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals—issued a statement saying he was “adamantly opposed to any Senate action” on Garland. The statement:  

“President Obama and I strongly disagree on which direction to take our nation, and I believe that we should do everything in our power to block him from further damaging the future of America,” Shelby said in a statement. “Rather than nominating an individual who will preserve the conservative legacy of the late Antonin Scalia, President Obama is attempting to solidify his liberal agenda by drastically changing the direction of the Court for decades to come.”

2016 Republican Hopefuls

Donald Trump on CNN: “I think the next president should make the pick, and I think they shouldn’t go forward, and I believe I’m pretty much in line with what the Republicans are saying.” Also: “Certainly they could wait it out very easily. I would be not in favor of going forward.”

Ted Cruz issued a statement via Twitter in which he used the occasion to take a swipe at Donald Trump, accusing the Republican frontrunner of being the kind of “dealmaker” who would agree to nominate an Obama-approved liberal like Garland. Here’s Cruz’s statement:

Garland is exactly the type of Supreme Court nominee you get when you make deals in Washington D.C. A so-called ‘moderate’ Democrat nominee is precisely the kind of deal that Donald Trump has told us he would make—someone who would rule along with other liberals on the bench like Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. Make no mistake, if Garland were confirmed, he would side predictably with President Obama on critical issues such as undermining the Second Amendment, legalizing partial-birth abortion, and propping up overreaching bureaucratic agencies like the EPA and the IRS. We cannot afford to lose the Supreme Court for generations to come by nominating or confirming someone that a dealmaker like Donald Trump would support. Washington dealmakers cannot be trusted with such crucial lifetime appointments.

I proudly stand with my Republican colleagues in our shared belief—our advice and consent—that we should not vote on any nominee until the next president is sworn into office. The People will decide. I comment Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley for holding the line and ensuring that We the People get to exercise our authority to decide the direction of the Supreme Court and the Bill of Rights.

John Kasich told a crowd at Villanova University, that President Obama shouldn’t “stiff the legislative body” by trying to rush through a confirmation process.   

Kasich also said, ambiguously, “If I think I’m gonna blow something up in the seventh year, I’m not gonna do it.”

Key Senate Democrats

Minority Leader Harry Reid, speaking on the chamber’s floor this morning:

For 100 years we’ve had these hearings in public. … I hope that President Obama’s nomination of an exceptionally qualified and consensus nominee will persuade the Senate Republicans to change course. … Give President Obama’s nominee a meeting, a hearing and a vote.

He added that the president is “doing his job this morning,” and the Senate “should do theirs.”

Patrick Leahy, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, in a statement:

There is more than enough time for senators to publicly and thoroughly examine Chief Judge Garland’s qualifications and vote on his confirmation before Memorial Day. For more than 40 years, the Senate has held a confirmation vote on Supreme Court nominees on average 70 days after their formal nomination. The Senate should afford Chief Judge Garland the same process with a fair and public hearing in April, and the full Senate should vote on his confirmation by May 25.

2016 Democratic Hopefuls

Hillary Clinton released a statement on Twitter:

It is the President’s Constitutional responsibility to nominate justices to the Supreme Court, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Today, in announcing Judge Merrick Garland as his nominee, President Obama has met his responsibility. He has chosen a nominee with considerable experience on the bench and in public service, a brilliant legal mind, and a long history of bipartisan support and admiration. Now, it’s up to members of the Senate to make their own, and perform the Constitutional duty they swore to undertake.

Evaluating and confirming a Justice to sit on this nation’s highest court should not be an exercise in political brinkmanship and partisan posturing. It is a serious obligation, performed on behalf of the American people, to ensure a highly qualified candidate fills a vacancy on the Court. That obligation does not depend on the party affiliation of a sitting president, nor does the Constitution make an exception to that duty in an election year.

The Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a Supreme Court nominee, and on average, a confirmation or rejection has taken just two months. This Senate has almost a full year to consider and confirm Judge Garland. It should begin that work immediately by giving Judge Garland a full and fair hearing followed by a vote. That is what the American people deserve, it is what our Constitution demands, and with millions of people’s lives in the balance, anything less is entirely unacceptable.

Bernie Sanders issued the following statement:

Judge Garland is a strong nominee with decades of experience on the bench. My Republican colleagues have called Judge Garland a ‘consensus nominee’ and said that there is ‘no question’ he could be confirmed. Refusing to hold hearings on the president’s nominee would be unprecedented. President Obama has done his job. It’s time for Republicans to do theirs. I call on Sen. Grassley to hold confirmation hearings immediately and for Leader McConnell to bring the nomination to floor of the Senate if Judge Garland is approved by the Judiciary Committee.

We’ll continue to update with more responses as they roll in.

Read more on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.