WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court won’t get a hearing or a vote from the Republican-led Senate, GOP members of the Judiciary Committee said Tuesday as they insisted only the next president must fill the vacancy.
“No hearing, no vote,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., as he emerged from a closed-door meeting with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Even the most divisive nominees for the high court have received a hearing before the Judiciary Committee, and the election-year decision to deny such a session is a sharp break with the Senate’s traditional “advise and consent” role. A committee review and a hearing is the first step in the process.
“We believe the American people need to decide who is going to make this appointment rather than a lame-duck president,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican and like Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Hearings would be “a waste of time,” added Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
As a rationale for their decision, Republicans pointed to a 1992 speech by Vice President Joe Biden, then the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in which Biden said that in a presidential election year the Senate should “not consider holding hearings until after the election.”
“Instead, it would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is under way, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over,” said Biden, then the Delaware senator.
As it turned out, there was no opening on the court that year.
Earlier in the day, McConnell said his party won’t permit a vote on any Supreme Court nominee submitted by Obama and will instead “revisit the matter” after the presidential election in November.
“Presidents have a right to nominate just as the Senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent,” the majority leader said in a speech on the Senate floor. “In this case, the Senate will withhold it.”
Scalia’s unexpected Feb. 13 death ignited a major fight in Washington over whether Obama should be able to replace him in a presidential election year. McConnell offered one of the first salvos; Scalia had only been dead for a few hours when McConnell announced that he would oppose replacing him before the election.
But McConnell’s remarks Tuesday were his first explicit statement that he would oppose a Senate vote.
McConnell was at the center of a battle a decade ago over Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees of President George W. Bush and, after Democrats took over the chamber in 2007, repeatedly said Bush’s judges deserved up or down votes.
Top Judiciary Committee Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont said the GOP’s promised obstruction was unprecedented.
“During my time on the committee, we have never refused to send a Supreme Court nominee to the full Senate for a confirmation vote, even when the majority of the committee opposed the nomination,” Leahy said. “And once reported to the full Senate, every Supreme Court nominee has received an up or down confirmation vote during my more than four decades in the Senate.”