The Slatest

Garland Watch: A Few More Meetings, a Lot More Obstruction

Merrick Garland.
“Impressive guy” Judge Merrick Garland, smiling. 

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Welcome to another edition of “Garland Watch,” our running look at what the Republicans in the Senate are doing with their time instead of even considering the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland. It has been 30 days—roughly a full calendar month—since President Obama picked Garland to replace Antonin Scalia on the high court, and no progress whatsoever has been made toward a hearing on that nomination. Here’s the week in Garland non-news.

Garland kicked off his week of meetings on Tuesday with breakfast with Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who had previously compared meeting Garland to meeting Idi Amin. The senator tweeted a picture of their “pleasant” meal Tuesday morning and said that he told Garland why he is taking the unprecedented action of not even giving him a hearing:

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This was just the most high-profile meeting among several that Garland had with GOP senators this week—all ending with either continued opposition from the senators themselves, or a strong backlash from conservatives in the rare cases where senators seemed more open.

Directly following his meeting with Grassley, Garland met with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who said that she took the meeting as an opportunity to discuss her state.

Garland ended his busy Tuesday by meeting Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey in the evening. The meeting, lasting more than an hour, left Toomey “more convinced than ever” that Garland should not take a seat on the court. Toomey explained, “I’m not convinced that he would be willing to play the role of a sufficiently aggressive check on an administration.”

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New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte has been ostensibly more open-minded to Garland than her colleagues. However her meeting with Garland, on Wednesday, drew criticism from both sides of the aisle. One state party conservative predictably decried her actions in offering Garland apparently serious consideration as “another thing she’s doing to betray us.” Democrats, namely New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan—Ayotte’s opponent in her upcoming Senate re-election campaign—labeled the incumbent’s meeting with Garland a “sham.” Ayotte responded to the backlash by releasing a statement soon after Wednesday’s meeting saying, “[I] explained my view that, given we are in the midst of a vigorous presidential election, I believe the people should have a voice on this important 
nomination.” Hassan said that Ayotte’s continued opposition to Garland was “an act of disrespect to Judge Garland’s years of service on the bench.” The New Hampshire Democratic Party then produced a satirical transcript of Ayotte’s meeting with Garland, poking fun of the senator’s unflinching support of the Republican Party leadership.

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On Thursday, Garland met with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. “We had a very good meeting … he’s an impressive guy,” the senator gushed. Despite his admiration however, Portman, is also still opposed to Garland’s nomination.

Toomey, Ayotte, and Portman are all up for re-election this year in swing states, and appear to be preparing for tough fights.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee spent its time on a continued series of hearings that didn’t involve filling an empty seat on the Supreme Court. On the agenda this week was a rescheduled session on revising immigrant investor programs. Though the Senate passed an omnibus bill covering this topic just four months ago, Grassley insisted that the “deeply flawed” program necessitated further “oversight.” Important stuff when compared with the highest court in the land.

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The GOP’s intransigence on Garland is, though frustrating, not unexpected. Interestingly, and also perhaps not unexpectedly, the current members of the Supreme Court have also been largely silent on the issue. While Justice Sonia Sotomayor notably called for greater diversity on the court last week, she and the rest of the justices have not pushed for action to fill that final seat, as the Washington Post reports. (Sotomayor said “I, for one, do think there is a disadvantage from having (five) Catholics, three Jews, everyone from an Ivy League school.” Garland is a Jewish man from an Ivy League school.) In an appearance at St. John’s College in New Mexico last week, audience members were explicitly told not to ask Sotomayor about Garland or the nomination process, according to the Post. Similarly, Justice Elena Kagan—a longtime friend and classmate of Garland’s—abstained from discussing the nominee at an appearance at NYU Law School. Chief Justice John Roberts, as well, has remained largely quiet on the issue—a stance that has garnered what was essentially a message from Grassley to keep it up. The senator previously warned that commenting on the nomination process is “a political temptation the chief justice should resist.”

In the meantime, you can be sure Grassley will continue to play his part in holding up the nomination from even being considered.

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

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