After the death of United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, President Barack Obama was tasked with filling his seat, and the nominee must be approved – or rejected – by the U.S. Senate.
Obama chose Merrick Garland, 63, the current Chief Justice of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia – a Harvard graduate.
Bob Beatty, professor of political science, said Republicans will wait to confirm or deny this nominee, but have not entirely blocked Garland as Scalia’s replacement.
“My guess is that the Republicans won’t bring it to a vote,” Beatty said. “They won’t do it. The reason is, right now, the Republican majority can have its cake and eat it too. What I mean is, many Republicans actually like this nominee. I think Obama has surprised them with this. What they can do is not give him a hearing until the election. This gives the Republicans a lot of maneuvering room. If a John Kasich or Ted Cruz somehow came out of the convention and won the presidency, then the Republicans could say ‘Pick your Supreme Court Justice, because we’re not doing anything with this guy.’ But if Hillary or possibly Trump were to win the election, there’s a period between the old Senate and the new Senate – between the election and January, about a month – where they could confirm him. Some Republicans say they don’t want Hillary to nominate somebody, but they don’t want Trump to either; he’s a wild card. We don’t know who he’ll nominate.”
Beatty doesn’t see Republicans being pressured into giving a hearing or vote to Garland until the election.
“For good or ill, even though the majority of Americans are showing they want the hearing, this is not the kind of issue where there’s tens of thousands of people protesting,” Beatty said. “So I don’t think the pressure would force them to do it. It’s possible. There’s a few Republican senators in swing states that might feel some pressure. They might simply say ‘Well I’ll vote for him, or I’ll very likely vote for him, in that lame duck session.’”
Beatty believes Obama kept this issue out of the spotlight because he didn’t pick a controversial nominee, but a well-qualified one.
“This nominee is not controversial. Ironically, by not being controversial,” Beatty said. “It’s not getting a lot of people to fight it. So if Obama had nominated a member of a minority group, for example a black woman, and Republicans refused to even give her a hearing, there might have been some real uproar. So to be honest, it might have helped Hillary or Bernie Sanders a lot. If you go to realclearpolitics.com, [Obama’s] approval ratings have gone up in the past month or so. That might be because he didn’t play politics with this nominee. He nominated what seems to be a very capable, non-controversial judge, and overall the American people said ‘Oh, that’s cool.’”
Beatty said he thinks Obama’s decision on picking Garland was simply to get his nominee in the position by picking someone both sides could agree with.
“He didn’t nominate someone that the left would really love,” Beatty said. “That would’ve sort have been a partisan pick. Instead he went with arguably the most qualified person, which just happened to be an older white male – not very exciting for the left, [but] someone that will get confirmed. How do I get someone who will get confirmed as someone the Republicans would like enough to go for in that lame duck session.”