The Slatest

Garland Watch: Presidential Nominee Trump Makes Supreme Court Justice Garland Slightly More Likely

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.
Garland looks to the left, wondering if he’s a little closer to a hearing. 

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s presumptive nomination as the GOP’s presidential candidate has begun to tear the party asunder: See the long list of Republican Trump opponents. That could possibly all be good news for the Supreme Court nomination of one Judge Merrick B. Garland.

Within hours of Trump clinching the nomination, the conservative website RedState argued that Republicans needed to confirm Garland “ASAP.” The managing editor at the site, Leon H. Wolf, also intoned, “the fact that Merrick Garland still exists as an option right now is a gift that should not be squandered.” The argument of the new “conservatives for Garland” camp is not that the unprecedented obstructionism has been destructive, but rather that Hillary Clinton is almost certain to beat Trump in a presidential election and will name someone much younger and more liberal than Garland to the bench.

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Despite such exigent calls to action from the conservative punditocracy (see more examples here), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains staunchly opposed to giving Garland a hearing. McConnell’s spokesperson released a statement Wednesday saying, “Republicans continue to believe that the American people should have a voice in this decision and the next president should make the nomination.” McConnell also endorsed Trump for president on Wednesday.

In any event, the RedState calculus is probably correct here. As Slate’s Jamelle Bouie has noted, the odds of Trump keeping another Democrat out of the White House are insanely steep. Republicans would be wise to be wary of the probability of another Democratic president possibly being accompanied by a Democratic Congress, or at least a Democratic Senate, in Washington.

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Prediction markets suggest that there has been a roughly 10 percent increase over the past few days in the chance of Garland receiving a hearing, noted the New York Times, but Republicans have a number of reasons to continue to stall. First, it remains true that a Supreme Court with Garland would be the most liberal court in decades. Though there is now the possibility of an even more liberal court if President Clinton is making a pick, some conservatives could still be holding out hope that Trump wins and picks a conservative nominee. Second, apart from a frustrated Obama and selectively outraged press, Garland hasn’t really stirred up impassioned public support—which means that there’s not been a ton of downside to holding up the nomination yet. As Michael Walsh from the New York Post noted, most voters “will no doubt be thinking of a lot of other things besides Merrick Garland.” Finally, after promising conservative voters that they would hold the line against Garland, backing down would be seen as a sign of weakness that would surely cause an uproar among the Republican base. So he will likely continue to remain in limbo for the indefinite future, no matter how many conservative pundits write that it’s time to let him through.

The Senate was on recess this week, so there were no judiciary hearings or meetings. They would not have involved Merrick Garland, in any case.

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