As the U.S. Senate stepped up its battle over a Supreme Court vacancy, Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray on Wednesday met privately and then posed for a photograph with Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee.
She emerged from the meeting with advice for Senate Republicans who want to wait until 2017 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia: Do your job.
“I am hopeful that more and more Republicans will listen to their constituents and agree to take the first step of meeting with Judge Garland as well,” Murray said.
Two Republicans who want nothing to do with Garland are Idaho’s conservative duo of Mike Crapo and Jim Risch. In separate interviews, they said they had no plans to meet with Garland, calling him an activist judge who’s on the wrong side of gun rights.
“He has an antipathy toward the Second Amendment right. . . . That’s enough, in and of itself, for me,” Crapo said.
Washington state and Idaho share a border, but their senators are worlds apart in their reaction to Garland. Their stances, which are consistent with those of their parties’ leaders, reflect the partisan rift that’s coloring the biggest fight of the year on Capitol Hill.
While Murray and Washington state Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell are touting Garland’s qualifications and want a speedy vote, Crapo and Risch are ready to vote against him and say the job should be filled by the next president.
After meeting with Garland, Murray said, “It’s clearer than ever to me that he is a strong nominee who is absolutely qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.” She said Republicans should give him “true consideration, a fair hearing and a vote.”
Crapo and Risch said they want a nominee who’s similar to Scalia, a conservative stalwart.
“The purpose of any meeting at this point for me would simply be to let Judge Garland know why I wouldn’t vote for him,” Crapo said.
On his iPhone, Risch keeps a photo of Scalia that he shot when the two went fishing together in Blaine County, Idaho, in August of 2014.
“There he is, standing in the middle of Silver Creek,” Risch said, displaying the photo to a reporter. “I took that picture – a great, great guy. . . . We spent some delightful time together fishing.”
Risch said he was approaching Garland’s nomination the same way he had handled previous nominations, waiting until the Senate Judiciary Committee votes.
“If I meet with him, I’m spinning my wheels and he’s spinning his wheels,” Risch said. After a committee vote, he said, he’d be willing to meet with Garland: “And I will explain to him clearly and concisely why I will not vote for him.”
The battle intensified Tuesday, when Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, had breakfast with Garland in the Capitol to tell him the committee would not hold hearings to consider his nomination.
But pressure is building for the Senate’s Republicans to reverse course.
Ignoring Grassley, the White House on Wednesday dispatched Garland to meet with Murray and Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Mark Warner of Virginia. Bryan Watt, Cantwell’s spokesman, said Cantwell hoped to arrange a meeting in coming weeks.
Glenn Sugameli, a Defenders of Wildlife senior attorney who tracks judicial nominees, said Wednesday that more than 500 newspaper editorials had urged the Senate to hold hearings.
On the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court building, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and liberal groups, including MoveOn.org and People for the American Way, staged a “Do Your Job” rally Wednesday, arguing that it’s time for Senate Republicans to allow an up-or-down vote.
Paul Gordon, senior legislative counsel for People for the American Way, said Risch and Crapo were using a double standard by encouraging the Senate to confirm David Nye as a new federal judge for Idaho while refusing to even meet with Garland. Crapo, he said, is in the same position as Obama, promoting a judicial nominee in the last year of his term.
“It’s rank hypocrisy of the highest order,” Gordon said.
Crapo and Risch said Idaho’s federal judgeship and the Supreme Court vacancy shouldn’t be compared.
“You’re mixing apples and oranges, “ Risch said, describing a federal judge as a person “who calls balls and strikes,” very unlike the Supreme Court.
“They are not involved in being an architect of the culture of our country, which is what a U.S. Supreme Court judge does,” Risch said. “The U.S. Supreme Court is very, very political, just like Congress is, just like the president of the United States. People wring their hands and say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible, you shouldn’t bring politics into it.’ How do you not bring politics into it?”
Crapo said he wants the Idaho and Supreme Court posts filled with “individuals who are proven to be committed to interpreting the law rather than making the law.” Like Risch, he said approving a Supreme Court nominee “is a different dynamic” from confirming federal judges.
If Senate Republicans hold firm, there’s another possibility looming: Campaigning in Iowa in January, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton said she’d consider nominating Obama to the Supreme Court if she won the presidency.
Risch noted that such a move wouldn’t be unprecedented, with William Howard Taft appointed to the high court in 1921, the only former president to ever get the honor.
Should Obama get the nod, Risch said: “It’d be an easy vote for me.”