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Sen. Mitch McConnell Repeats Pledge To Block Obama Supreme Court Nominee

Mar 16, 2016
Originally published on March 16, 2016 6:40 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Obama has selected Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Garland is the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He was confirmed in 1997 with strong bipartisan support. But as NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, Republicans in this Senate have no intention of making Garland a Supreme Court justice.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Nineteen years ago, Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah took to the Senate floor and dared his colleagues to challenge the merits of a longtime federal prosecutor named Merrick Garland. He's was a nominee to the D.C. Circuit.

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ORRIN HATCH: I believe Mr. Garland is a fine nominee. I know of his legal ability. I know of his honesty. I know of his acumen. And he belongs on the court.

CHANG: Today, Hatch says he probably won't even meet with Garland. It's a courtesy Supreme Court nominees usually get.

You don't think you're being inconsistent.

HATCH: No, oh, no, no, no, no. I still think he's - think highly of him.

CHANG: But as highly as he thinks of Garland, Hatch says this nomination is completely different.

HATCH: What I know about Judge Garland - he's a good man, but he shouldn't be brought up in this toxic environment. I'm tired of the Supreme Court being used as a battering ball back and forth between both sides.

CHANG: Hatch is one of seven Republicans still in the Senate who voted to confirm Garland back in 1997. It's a slightly awkward fact for a caucus now determined to keep the centrist judge off the Supreme Court while President Obama's still in office. But they're telling Garland, don't take it personally.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: The decisions the Senate announced weeks ago remains about a principle and not a person.

CHANG: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the White House is just using the circuit judge as a sacrificial lamb.

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MCCONNELL: It seems clear that President Obama made this nomination not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election.

CHANG: While conservative groups were blasting out attacks against Garland's judicial philosophy, McConnell and other Republicans refrained from criticizing Garland at all. The question now is, for Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois - is what happens tomorrow when Garland starts making the rounds in the Senate?

DICK DURBIN: It sounds like McConnell has said, no, thanks; we won't even let you come in the door. We've never had this before. There's never been such a rude strategy that's been promulgated by a leader in the Senate.

CHANG: A few Republicans have said they are willing to meet with Garland, like Jeff Flake of Arizona.

JEFF FLAKE: I'll meet with anybody, and that would include him.

CHANG: And Flake says there might even be a chance for Garland to be confirmed this December during the lame-duck session.

FLAKE: Others are raising that, and certainly if we - if the election doesn't go the way Republicans want it, there will be a lot of people open to that, I'm sure.

CHANG: Otherwise, Senate Republicans know they could very well have to consider either President Clinton's or President Trump's pick for the Supreme Court. Ailsa Change, NPR News, The Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.