MONTPELIER — Vermont’s congressional delegation is strongly backing President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and urging the GOP to abandon its promise to prevent the confirmation process from taking place.
Obama announced the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, chief judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, at the White House Wednesday. Garland, 63, is seen as a moderate, consensus pick, but faces extreme opposition from Republicans in the Senate who believe the next president should be the one to nominate a justice.
The president did his best Wednesday to undermine the Republican position.
“I have fulfilled my constitutional duty. Now it’s time for the Senate to do theirs. Presidents do not stop working in the final year of their term, neither should a senator,” Obama said.
Obama said he went through an “exhaustive” process of consulting lawmakers and others “representing an array of interests all across the spectrum” in selecting Garland, who was previously considered by Obama for the Supreme Court during his presidency. His service as a judge has “earned him the respect and admiration of leaders from both sides of the aisle,” the president said.
“The one name that has come up repeatedly from Republicans and Democrats alike is Merrick Garland,” Obama said.
The country is engaged in a political season that “is even noisier and more volatile than usual,” according to the president. But that should not keep the Senate from holding hearing and a vote on the nomination, he argued.
“It is tempting to make this confirmation process simply an extension of our divided politics … but to go down that path would be wrong. It would be a betrayal of our best traditions and a betrayal of the vision of our founding documents,” Obama said. “At a time when our politics are so polarized, at a time when norms and customs of political rhetoric and courtesy and comity are so often treated like they’re disposable, this is precisely the time when we should play it straight and treat the process of appointing a Supreme Court justice with the seriousness and care it deserves because our Supreme Court really is unique. It’s supposed to be above politics, it has to be, and it should stay that way.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has been overshadowed lately by Vermont’s junior senator, Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate for president, is now on the front lines of Supreme Court battle with Republicans. Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee who attended the Rose Garden announcement, said Garland “is widely admired throughout the legal profession and is one of the most accomplished judges on the federal bench.”
Garland “should be confirmed without controversy,” Leahy said Wednesday.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Sanders issued a statement Wednesday saying Garland is “a strong nominee with decades of experience on the bench.” He said Republicans have previously called Garland a “consensus nominee.”
“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,” Sanders said. “I call on [Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman] Sen. [Chuck] Grassley to hold confirmation hearings immediately and for (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell to bring the nomination to floor of the Senate if Judge Garland is approved by the Judiciary Committee.”
Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, also expressed support for Garland on Wednesday, but as a member of the House will not play a role in the confirmation process.
“Merrick Garland is a highly respected and exceptionally qualified jurist. The Senate has an obligation to conduct a fair hearing on his nomination and hold an up or down vote,” Welch said. “A failure to do so will undermine the effectiveness of the Supreme Court at a critical juncture in its current term as it considers several important cases.”
Despite the case made Wednesday by the president and other Democrats, Republicans remained committed to their opposition to hearings and a confirmation vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on the Senate floor shortly after the announcement that the GOP will not consider Garland. He said the American people should weigh in first through the presidential election in November.
Grassley issued a statement saying 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.”