Politics & Government

NC’s senators won’t meet with Supreme Court nominee

U.S. Senator Richard Burr has declined to meet with President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.
U.S. Senator Richard Burr has declined to meet with President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Charlotte Observer

Insisting that the next president should fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, North Carolina’s two Republican senators have decided to spurn White House invitations to meet with President Barack Obama’s nominee, Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland.

The office of North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr said only that he would not do so.

Freshman North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis believes filling the vacancy that will tip the ideological scales of a court divided 4-4 since the recent death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia “ultimately comes down to a principle, not the person that President Obama has nominated,” said Daniel Keylin, a spokesman for Tillis.

“Given that the Senate majority has already decided to let the American people have a voice on the Supreme Court vacancy, there would really be no purpose to (Tillis) meeting with Judge Garland,” Keylin said. Tillis is a member of the Judiciary Committee that recommends whether the Senate should confirm Supreme Court nominees.

In delivering the Republican response to Obama’s weekly radio address last weekend, Tillis emphasized that the appointment “will determine the balance of the court for generations to come.” He answered White House calls for the Senate to fulfill its constitutional duty by saying the Senate’s authority to give its “advice and consent” on Supreme Court nominations does not require it to consider a particular nominee.

The Senate is doing its job and fulfilling its constitutional obligation by deferring consent in order to let the people’s voice be heard.

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis

The White House says that while Republican senators initially announced their opposition to any Obama nominee, at least a dozen have since relented and are affording Garland the courtesy of a customary, face-to-face greeting.

Among them: Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Like Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, Grassley is running for reelection this year, as are six other Republicans who’ve agreed to meet with Garland.

Chief Judge Merrick Garland shares his story and his thoughts on being nominated to sit on the nation's highest court in this video produced by the White House. President Obama nominated Garland on March 16, 2016.

Political jockeying over the vacancy began within hours of Scalia’s Feb. 13 death, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that Americans deserve a chance to select a new president to fill the nomination. He said his party would refuse to hold hearings or bring to a vote any nomination put forward by Obama.

Obama then sought to put Republicans on the defensive by tapping Garland, the highly regarded chief judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Garland, the White House says, has more judicial experience than any prior court nominee.

A look at how the work of the Supreme Court nominee Merrick B. Garland as a prosecutor for the 1995 bombing case helped shape his approach to the law.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest described the Republicans’ strategy as “an extreme, unreasonable position,” one that has left some Republicans looking “pretty uncomfortable in public.”

It’s a little awkward for Republicans to say that the next president should decide (the nominee) when they don’t support either of the two leading candidates for president.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest

“Public polling on this issue indicates that even many, and in some cases most, Republicans are not comfortable with this strategy,” Earnest said. He also noted that most Republican senators don’t support Donald Trump, front-runner for the party’s presidential nomination, and that McConnell has even urged them to run negative ads attacking Trump.

Ironically, just a couple of weeks before Scalia died, the Supreme Court’s conservative chief justice, John Roberts, said during an appearance in Boston that the Senate’s confirmation process for the nation’s highest court “is not functioning very well” because of political agendas.

While Scalia and the liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were confirmed with one or two dissenting votes, recent nominees have been confirmed with near party line votes, Roberts told a forum at the New England School of Law Boston.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “That suggests to me that the process is being used for something other than ensuring the qualifications of the nominees. It’s a process now where the members of the committee frequently ask questions they know would be inappropriate for us to answer.”

“A sharply political, divisive hearing process,” Roberts said, “increases the danger that whoever comes out of it will be viewed in those terms. . . . We don’t work as Democrats or Republicans. I think it’s a very unfortunate perception that the public might get from the confirmation process.”