Merrick Garland | Media Matters for America

Merrick Garland

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  • Republicans Threaten To Use Nuclear Option On Gorsuch, Media Blame Democrats


    Media figures, many of them conservative, are pushing the false talking point that Senate Democrats are to blame for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s threat to change the rules and allow Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed by a simple majority vote. In fact, past Senate rule changes effectuated by Democrats have not applied to Supreme Court nominees, and they were made in response to historic GOP obstruction of noncontroversial Obama nominees. Gorsuch, on the other hand, is considered to be a highly ideological nominee who falls to the right of Antonin Scalia.

  • Conservative Media Figures Backing Trump's Supreme Court Nominee Are Whitewashing 293 Days Of GOP Obstruction


    Conservative media figures celebrated President Donald Trump’s nomination of federal appellate Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and suggested the Senate should confirm him. This view is hypocritical in light of the historic Senate GOP obstruction used to kill former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, who was a far less ideological choice than Gorsuch.

  • What Supreme Court Experts Want You To Know Before The Last Presidential Debate


    The Supreme Court will be one of the topics discussed at the final presidential debate of this election, moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace on October 19. Supreme Court reporters and legal experts have been explaining the significance of the court throughout the election season, because of the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February and the implications for the ideological direction of the court stemming from the election of a new president.

  • The Media Should Not Give Republicans A Pass On Unprecedented Obstruction Of Obama’s Judicial Nominees


    With Congress back in session and Democrats pushing action on Obama’s judicial nominees, it is important for media reporting on these developments to explain that Senate Republicans are engaging in unprecedented obstruction, which includes a historic blockade of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and exceptional obstruction of judicial nominations to district and circuit courts. Media should point out that Republican senators cannot credibly use the fact that is an election year as an excuse not to move forward with confirmations.

  • USA Today Excoriates Senate GOP For “Flat-Out Ignoring” SCOTUS Vacancy

    Ed. Board: Senate Republicans Should “Put Politics Aside And Give Judge Garland A Hearing And A Vote”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The USA Today editorial board renewed its call for Senate Republicans to hold a hearing and a vote on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, who has been awaiting confirmation hearings since March 16, pointing out that the GOP leadership’s reasoning for the blockade is “unprecedented" and “hypocritical,” and noting that “even prominent Republicans” are calling for action on the nomination.

    On August 9 -- 146 days after Judge Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court in the face of a conservative media-driven smear campaign -- the USA Today editorial board once again called for Senate Republicans to do “the best thing for the court, the country and the Constitution,” and hold a hearing and a vote on Garland’s nomination. The board argued that the GOP is engaging in a “hypocritical posture” by denying a hearing before the presidential election while hinting at a potential change in course should Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton win the race in November.

    USA Today’s latest editorial continues a months-long drumbeat of widespread support for a Senate vote on the Garland nomination -- including from other national and state editorial boards, from prominent legal experts across the ideological spectrum, and from voters. As USA Today noted, “the problem” is “not Garland,” as even well-known conservative legal minds “have said that the time to act was yesterday.”

    From the August 9 editorial:

    Congress failing to act isn't exactly breaking news. It's tied in knots on a range of issues, from the budget and trade to creating jobs and controlling guns. But flat-out ignoring a vacancy on the nation's highest court, which Senate Republicans have vowed to do while President Obama remains in office, is an abrogation of its constitutional duty.


    So what's the problem? Not Garland. He has been lauded by every group that has reviewed his qualifications. Even prominent Republicans, such as former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor and former U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales, have said that the time to act was yesterday.

    Yet from day one, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear that Republicans simply could not let Obama replace Scalia. Despite GOP leaders' obvious unease with Donald Trump as their standard-bearer, they want to hand him the vacancy to fill.


    Translation: The Scalia seat may await Trump, but not Hillary Clinton. If she wins — or even if it looks like she will — all bets are off, because Clinton could ditch Garland for someone far younger or further left, and the GOP gambit will have backfired.

    That's a hypocritical posture for Republicans to take. Either this is Obama's seat to fill or it isn't. When the Senate returns in September, it should put politics aside and give Judge Garland a hearing and a vote. It's the best thing for the court, the country and the Constitution.

  • NRA’s Wayne LaPierre Ironically Rails Against “Elites”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre railed against “elites” in a new NRA video, complaining that powerful people in politics, Hollywood, and the media “run our country.”

    In a July 5 video titled “We Don’t Need You,” released as part of the NRA’s “national campaign,” LaPierre complained that there is “no longer any difference between our politicians and the elite media who report on them, and the Hollywood elites who bankroll them both.”

    According to LaPierre, these groups of elite figures “work together, in some newsrooms and boardrooms and Washington back rooms and star-studded champagne fundraisers, to decide for the rest of us what's news and what's not, what's true and what's not, who gets protected, who goes to prison, who gets our money, and who gets our vote.”

    LaPierre added: “These elites threaten our very survival, and to them we say: We don't trust you, we don't fear you, and we don't need you. Take your hands off our future.”

    But if being elite means wielding outsized influence, LaPierre and the NRA are perfect definitions of the word.

    LaPierre gets more than $1 million each year in pay and other compensation from the NRA and is registered as a federal lobbyist for the organization. The NRA also wields outsized influence over Congress due to the longstanding, but false, belief that the organization has the ability to use elections to remove politicians from office who refuse to go along with its agenda. (Actual analyses of federal election outcomes and of NRA election spending have proved that the conventional wisdom is wrong, but the attitude persists in some respects, impacting congressional behavior.)

    While LaPierre put forward a populist message in the NRA video, it is the NRA that blocks broadly popular legislation and congressional action. The organization is widely credited as the reason Congress cannot pass legislation to expand background checks, a proposal favored by between 88 and 93 percent of voters. The NRA is also key in blocking legislation to prevent individuals on the terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms, a proposal favored by 86 percent of Americans. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has cited the NRA’s opposition to Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland -- pointing to its distortion of Garland’s judicial record -- as justification for obstructing his nomination, even though strong majorities of voters want Garland to receive a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

  • Sen. Grassley Adopted Conservative Media Talking Point That Equates Trump’s Racism To Sotomayor’s Call For Diversity

    Grassley Now Claims His Recycled Comparison Was Misunderstood

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) drew a false equivalence between presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump’s racist claims about a federal judge and comments made by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor about the importance of a diverse judiciary, prior to her nomination.

    The claim by Grassley -- who, as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, is playing a key role in unprecedented Republican obstructionism of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court -- echoed a false right-wing talking point recently employed by Fox News’ Sean Hannity, CNN’s pro-Donald Trump commentator Jeffrey Lord, and other conservative figures.

    During a June 8 conference call with The Des Moines Register, Grassley reportedly said, “I think that you don’t have any more trouble with what Trump said than when Sotomayor said that -- when she was found saying in speeches that, quote, ‘A wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male.’”

    Hours later when asked about his claim by NBC News correspondent Hallie Jackson, Grassley sought to walk back his comments. Despite having said that he didn't have "any more trouble" with Trump's racist remarks compared to Sotomayor's past statements, Grassley told NBC News, "I don't have to explain it. You just can't equate the two, and I wasn't meaning to equate the two." 

    Sotomayor did make the “wise Latina” remark in several speeches before she was nominated to the Supreme Court when discussing how much of U.S jurisprudence has been written by white men as opposed to by women and people of color.

    After the remark was raised during her confirmation hearing, Sotomayor clarified what she meant, stating, “I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt: I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experience.”

    Sotomayor explained the purpose of the remark was to inspire students “to believe they could become anything they wanted to become, just as I have.” The full context made that clear, as the future justice noted she sought to become more than the “sum total of my experiences”:

    I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.

    By comparison, Trump has made repeated racist attacks against federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel -- who is presiding over a lawsuit against Trump over fraud allegations concerning Trump University business practices -- including claiming bias from the judge because “he’s a Mexican.”

    Trump claimed that Curiel, who is in fact an American born in Indiana, has an “inherent conflict of interest” because of Trump’s promise to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. Trump’s remarks on Curiel were so blatantly rooted in the offensive assumption that all people of Mexican descent think or act the same  that even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) characterized them as “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

    In his comments to the Register, Grassley also said of Sotomayor’s past statement, “I don’t hear any criticism of that sort of comment by a justice of the Supreme Court” -- even though conservative media relentlessly attacked her nomination in 2009 over the partial and misrepresented quote. Grassley was aware of the manufactured controversy at the time -- ABC News asked him why he didn’t ask the then-nominee about the statement during her confirmation hearing, and he said he didn’t want to “beat a dead horse” -- and he later cited The Washington Post’s discussion of the matter in his prepared statement explaining his “No” vote on Sotomayor’s confirmation.   

  • Wash. Post Debunks Mitch McConnell’s “Absurd” Claim That Merrick Garland Is Ideologically Extreme

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post’s editorial board criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) “patently ridiculous” claim that Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland is ideologically extreme.

    Since Garland’s nomination in March, groups like the Judicial Crisis Network, the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Rifle Association have made numerous false and misleading claims about Garland’s record to portray him as ideologically extreme. In fact, conservatives have praised Garland for years and multiple prominent conservative lawyers have announced their support for Garland’s nomination.

    In a June 5 editorial, the editorial board slammed McConnell’s “patently ridiculous” claim after he said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that “from a conservative point of view, I don’t think you could have a worse nominee than Merrick Garland.” The board wrote that it is “absurd” to call Garland a “worst-case scenario for Republicans,” noting, “Fellow judges from across the ideological spectrum [have] effusively praise[d] Mr. Garland” and that Garland’s record as a judge has “been careful and evenhanded.” From the June 5 piece:

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continues to insist that the GOP blockade of Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, is “about a principle, not a person.” The crucial principle that apparently justifies hobbling the Supreme Court is the newly invented notion that the president should be able to fill court vacancies during only three-quarters of his elected term.

    Mr. McConnell’s discovery of this principle has been as obvious a case of situational ethics as has ever been seen in Washington. Indeed, from the beginning, it was clear Republicans had more than proper procedure on their minds. “The next justice could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court and have a profound impact on our country,” Mr. McConnell warned in March.

    Now Mr. McConnell has gone a step further, making his opposition not simply cynical but patently ridiculous. In interviews last week, Mr. McConnell argued that Mr. Garland is ideologically extreme. “I don’t think you could have a worse — from a conservative point of view, I don’t think you could have a worse nominee than Merrick Garland,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I would say, he’s a well-qualified, very liberal judge,” he told NPR.

    It is absurd to claim that Mr. Garland, a nominee about whom many liberal groups are not excited, a judge whom Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) once called a “consensus nominee,” is the worst-case scenario for Republicans. Fellow judges from across the ideological spectrum effusively praise Mr. Garland. His work on the country’s second-most prominent court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has been careful and evenhanded. Mr. McConnell’s claims do not pass the laugh test — unless by “worst,” he means “most-qualified” and therefore most difficult plausibly to reject.

    Mr. McConnell’s admission that Mr. Garland is “well-qualified” should end the discussion. The president gets to nominate; the Senate gets to object in extraordinary circumstances, but has an obligation to confirm if nominees are, as in this case, obviously qualified and within the mainstream of judicial thinking. No other arrangement can keep the system working. But the majority leader obviously has other considerations in mind.

  • Law Professors: Republicans’ “Historically Unprecedented” Refusal To Consider Any Obama SCOTUS Nominee Creates “Constitutional Risks”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Republicans’ stated plan to block any nomination to the Supreme Court by President Obama is “historically unprecedented,” according to an analysis of every Supreme Court nomination. The analysis notes that “the Senate has only refused to consider a President’s Supreme Court nominations in the highly unusual circumstance where the nominating President’s status as the most recently elected President has been in doubt.”

    According to the analysis, authored by University of Illinois College of Law professors Robin Bradley Kar and Jason Mazzone, Senate Republicans’ “major departure from more than two centuries of historical tradition” poses the risk that “no future Supreme Court Justice will be appointable unless the President and the Senate are of the same political party.”

    As the authors explained, circumstances similar to President Obama’s -- where an elected president is presented with a Supreme Court vacancy prior to the election of his successor -- have occurred 103 times in U.S. history. In each of those instances, the Senate voted to confirm a judge nominated by that president to fill the vacancy.

    Kar and Mazzone warn that Republicans’ insistence on rejecting this longstanding historical precedent creates “historic, pragmatic, and constitutional risks” and urge that “Senate Republican leaders should reconsider their current plan” (internal citations removed, emphasis original):

    In particular, history suggests that while there may be no general duty on the part of the Senate to provide advice and consent with respect to every nomination to a federal office that a President may make, the Supreme Court presents a special case. As we show, the Senate has only refused to consider a President’s Supreme Court nominations in the highly unusual circumstance where the nominating President’s status as the most recently elected President has been in doubt. Once this fact is recognized, it will become clear that the Republican plan is historically unprecedented and entails more extensive pragmatic and constitutional risks than have thus far been recognized. These risks may well outweigh the originally perceived benefits of the plan, even to Senate Republicans.


    Part I therefore begins with a close look at the entire relevant history. By examining every Supreme Court appointment process in U.S. history, we uncover a principled but underappreciated distinction between cases where the Senate has provided advice and consent on particular Supreme Court nominees—by considering them (and either confirming, rejecting, or resisting them on the merits using a wide array of senatorial procedures)—and cases where the Senate has sought deliberately to transfer a sitting President’s complete Supreme Court appointment powers to a successor. We show that tactics of the latter kind have always been limited to the unusual circumstance where there were contemporaneous questions concerning the status of the nominating President as the most recently elected President. More specifically, all such cases involved a President who either (a) attained office by succession rather than election or (b) began the nomination process after the election of his successor. Neither circumstance applies to President Obama’s nomination of Judge Garland. Moreover, bracketing these highly unusual circumstances, we show that there have been 103 prior cases in which—as in the case of Obama’s nomination of Garland -- an elected President nominated someone to fill an actual Supreme Court vacancy and began the nomination process prior to the election of a successor. In all 103 cases, which go back all the way to the earliest days of the Republic, the sitting President was able to both nominate and appoint a replacement Justice -- by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, and regardless of the senatorial rules and procedures in place. Hence, in none of the 103 cases that most closely resemble the current controversy has a sitting President been unable to fill an existing Supreme Court vacancy with some nominee.

    The historical rule that best accounts for the entire history of Supreme Court appointments is thus the following: Although the Senate has the constitutional power to provide advice and consent on particular Supreme Court nominees (and hence to reject or resist individual nominees on the merits), the Senate may only deliberately transfer one President’s Supreme Court appointment powers to an unknown successor -- as Senate Republicans are currently attempting to do with their plan -- if there are contemporaneous questions about the status of the nominating President as the most recently elected President. There are no such credible questions about President Obama’s status. Hence, while Senate Republicans have framed their opposition to the nomination of Judge Garland as hewing to historical practices, their plan in fact presents a major departure from more than two centuries of historical tradition.


    The logical terminus of the current Republican plan may also be that no future Supreme Court Justice will be appointable unless the President and the Senate are of the same political party. Such a result can only lead to a more -- rather than less -- politicized appointment process and, ultimately, to a more politicized Court.


    In order to avoid the historic, pragmatic, and constitutional risks we set forth, Senate Republican leaders should reconsider their current plan. They should not breach a tradition that goes back more than two centuries and began in the earliest days of the Republic. They should instead do what has always been done in similar circumstances. They should proceed to full Senate consideration of Judge Garland or any other nominee that President Obama puts forth in a timely manner.

    h/t Geoffrey R. Stone

  • NRA Complains The Media Aren’t Taking Its False Attacks On Garland Nomination Seriously

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The NRA complained that media outlets are ignoring their false attacks on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in an article that offered more falsehoods.

    In a May 24 article at the NRA’s online magazine America's 1st Freedom, Chris Cox, the NRA’s top lobbyist who also runs the group’s political efforts, lashed out at the New York Times editorial board for dismissing the NRA’s false claims about Garland’s record. Cox’s article, titled “Media Ignore Facts In Dismissing NRA’s Concerns About Supreme Court Nominee,” criticized the Times for concluding that there is “no fact-based reason” for the NRA to claim Garland is hostile to the Second Amendment.

    In complaining about “the most extreme case of media bias in recent memory,” Cox accused the Times of “spouting assumptions without checking facts” and “journalistic malfeasance to insist that the NRA has no basis for opposing him.”

    To make the case that Garland’s record does indicate an anti-gun bias, Cox went on to cite Garland’s role in the 2007 decision Parker v. District of Columbia which came before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit where Garland is now chief judge.

    But Garland’s role in this decision was minimal, and countless legal experts have repeatedly refuted claims that it indicates any particular views on the Second Amendment.

    Here are the facts about the Parker case.

    In a 2-1 panel decision -- in which then-circuit judge Garland did not participate -- the D.C. Circuit reversed a lower court's decision upholding D.C.’s handgun ban, finding that the law violated the Second Amendment.

    Following the ruling, Garland was one of four judges -- including George H.W. Bush appointee Judge Raymond Randolph -- who voted whether to have the entire D.C. Circuit rehear the case in a procedural move known as an en banc rehearing. A majority of D.C. Circuit judges voted not to rehear the case, and it moved on to the Supreme Court, where it became the landmark Second Amendment decision District of Columbia v. Heller.

    In the NRA article, Cox falsely alleged that Garland’s vote to rehear the case means that he would have reversed the decision striking down D.C.’s handgun ban, writing, “the fact is, judges do not vote to rehear decisions with which they agree. If a judge thinks a panel’s opinion was wrong, he or she votes to have the full court rehear it. If a judge thinks a panel’s opinion was correct, he or she lets it stand. Plain and simple.”

    According to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, Cox is wrong to claim that a vote to rehear a case indicates that a judge agrees or disagrees with the court’s initial ruling.

    As Rule 35 explains, en banc rehearings “ordinarily will not be ordered unless” there is disagreement among courts about the correct outcome of the case or if “the proceeding involves a question of exceptional importance”:

    (a) When Hearing or Rehearing En Banc May Be Ordered. A majority of the circuit judges who are in regular active service and who are not disqualified may order that an appeal or other proceeding be heard or reheard by the court of appeals en banc. An en banc hearing or rehearing is not favored and ordinarily will not be ordered unless:

    (1) en banc consideration is necessary to secure or maintain uniformity of the court's decisions; or

    (2) the proceeding involves a question of exceptional importance.

    According to PolitiFact, both conditions of the en banc rule were satisfied by the Parker case. Indeed, the case came at a time when there was disagreement among the courts about whether the Second Amendment conferred a “collective” or “individual” right.

    The case was also exceptionally important -- the Supreme Court at the time had not made a significant ruling on the meaning of the Second Amendment since 1939 in United States v. Miller. In fact, the question of whether handgun bans were permissible under the Second Amendment was so important that the NRA spent years crafting a case to challenge the D.C.’s handgun ban. (The NRA’s case, Seegars v. Gonzalez was poorly crafted, and the NRA later joined the Parker efforts.)

    Legal experts have refuted the type of claim being made by the NRA about Garland's vote to rehear Parker. As Andrew Bradt, assistant professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law explained, “A vote to rehear a case can be based only on the importance of the issue and the need to have the full court address it or it can be because the issue is a complicated and confusing one that demands the clarity provided by a discussion of the full court of appeals. It doesn't at all indicate a pre-judgement that the panel's decision was wrong.”

    The claim that Garland’s en banc vote in Parker means that he is anti-gun is a smear was first developed by the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), a discredited right-wing group that is spending millions to oppose Garland's nomination, and now is repeated by the NRA. Numerous legal experts, however, have already debunked the claim that an en banc vote is representative of how a judge would rule on the merits if the case were reheard. Plain and simple.

  • NY Times Editorial Board Slams Republican Obstruction On Garland Confirmation In Light Of Zubik V. Burwell Punt

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The New York Times editorial board slammed Senate Republicans’ ongoing obstruction of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, explaining that the inability to resolve the Zubik v. Burwell case shows the harm in a court “without a full bench.”

    On May 16, the Supreme Court handed down an unsigned per curiam opinion on the high-profile Zubik v. Burwell case, remanding the lawsuit back to a federal appeals court for further consideration of how religious accommodations are granted within the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

    The New York Times editorial board pointed out that this type of opinion, which does not create Supreme Court precedent but instead allows for the potential to revisit similar cases in the future, illustrates the harm in Senate Republican’ ongoing obstruction of Merrick Garland’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. The Times’ editorial board lamented that opinions such as Zubik “leave millions of Americans waiting for justice or clarity as major legal questions are unresolved,” and concluded that “despite what Senate Republicans may say,” the Zubik punt showed that “the court cannot do its job without a full bench.”

    From the May 16 editorial (emphasis added):

    Every day that passes without a ninth justice undermines the Supreme Court’s ability to function, and leaves millions of Americans waiting for justice or clarity as major legal questions are unresolved.

    On Monday, the eight-member court avoided issuing a ruling on one of this term’s biggest cases, Zubik v. Burwell, which challenges the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers’ health care plans cover the cost of birth control for their employees. In an unsigned opinion, the court sent the lawsuits back to the lower federal courts, with instructions to try to craft a compromise that would be acceptable to everyone.

    This is the second time since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February that the court has failed to reach a decision in a high-profile case; in March, the court split 4 to 4 in a labor case involving the longstanding right of public-sector unions, which represent millions of American workers, to charge collective bargaining fees to nonmembers.


    Unfortunately, the justices appear to be evenly split on this issue, as they may be on other significant cases pending before them.

    The court’s job is not to propose complicated compromises for individual litigants; it is to provide the final word in interpreting the Constitution and the nation’s laws. Despite what Senate Republicans may say about the lack of harm in the delay in filling the vacancy, the court cannot do its job without a full bench.


  • Des Moines Register: Sen. Grassley Has “Called Into Question His Own Integrity” In Blocking Supreme Court Nomination

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Des Moines Register’s editorial board wrote that Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) refusal to hold hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee “called into question” Grassley’s “own integrity” and could redefine the long-serving senator’s career. 

    On March 16, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Since then, The Des Moines Register and other Iowa papers have been vocal in calling for Grassley, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee and is in charge of initiating nomination hearings, to proceed with the nomination process. 

    The May 15 editorial claimed that Grassley’s obstruction of the nomination process gives the impression that the senator is “putting politics ahead of the national interest” and says that it isn’t just Democrats who disagree with Grassley. Citing poll numbers showing “67 percent of Americans favored Senate hearings on the Garland nomination,” the editorial demonstrated the public’s rejection of Grassley’s argument that the nomination process should be delayed until after the next election. 

    By announcing, within hours of Scalia’s death, his intent to prevent any Obama nominee from getting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley did more than stake out a controversial position on an issue. He called into question his own integrity and he created the appearance, at least, that he was putting politics ahead of the national interest.

    That’s not just the assessment of liberal Democrats, some of whom have expressed grudging respect for the senator over the years. Many Republicans are also deeply troubled by Grassley’s actions.

    Last week, a CNN poll found that 67 percent of Americans favored Senate hearings on the Garland nomination. Only 28 percent were opposed to hearings. Similar numbers were reported in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in mid-April. What’s more, both polls show that public support for confirmation hearings is rapidly growing.

    Grassley hasn’t helped his cause with his claim that by blocking any Obama nominee to the court, he is simply “letting the people have their say” on the matter this November.

    “Not very often do the people have a chance to express the view on, ‘Do you want a very liberal person put on the court or a conservative person put on the court?’” Grassley says.

    Not very often? More like never. Supreme Court justices aren’t selected through any sort of popular vote — and for good reason. They’re not politicians, and issues of constitutional rights are best not determined on Election Day.

    And that’s the fundamental and inescapable problem with Grassley’s contrived “let the people speak” rationale for refusing to hold hearings. It’s built on a framework of contradictory assumptions that conflict with past practice and the U.S. Constitution, and aren’t even grounded in reality:

    First, there’s the notion that the general public — not just the president and the Senate — ought to have some say in selecting Supreme Court justices via the November presidential election. It’s bizarre that Grassley, who often complains the court is “too politicized” and doesn’t adhere to strict readings of the Constitution, would even suggest this.

    Second, there’s the assumption that presidential elections are single-issue referendums as to what sort of justices belong on the high court. Even now, with Scalia’s seat publicly held hostage by Grassley, voters say they’re far more concerned with a dozen other domestic and foreign issues.

    And finally there’s Grassley’s inexplicable assertion that while we can’t rely on the last two presidential elections to determine the will of the people, we will be able to rely on the next one.

    Over the course of six terms in the U.S. Senate, three terms in the U.S. House, and 16 years in the Iowa Legislature, Grassley cultivated a reputation for being a fair-minded, hard-working, bipartisan lawmaker.

    That well-deserved reputation is now badly damaged — perhaps irretrievably so.