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In opposing Garland’s nomination, Republicans double down on their phony ‘principle’

GOP leaders stick to their previous pledge not to even allow a hearing on the Supreme Court nomination.

Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House on Wednesday.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

I don’t really claim to know whether Senate Republicans are really sorry about the hole they’ve dug themselves into with their hoked-up “principle” that they can’t consider a Supreme Court nomination during the last year of a president’s term. But sure enough, right after Wednesday’s post in which I said that they would have a hard time reversing course once they had declared it to be a sacred and long-standing principle, Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor and doubled down, saying the Merrick Garland nomination didn’t change anything because it wasn’t about a person, it was about a principle.

Even Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the senior member of the Judiciary Committee and a huge, outspoken admirer of Judge Garland, is sticking to his previous pledge not to even allow a hearing on the nomination.

It would have been refreshingly honest, right after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, if the Republicans had just said plainly what everyone understood: If the circumstances had been the same except that the president in the last year of her term had been a Republican, we would already be having hearings — and very likely the Democrats would be trying to slow things down in hopes of getting to the next presidency, which they would hope would be a Democratic presidency.

Hatch expressed himself (among other places, no doubt) in a segment on my favorite news program, the we-dare-to-to-be-dull PBS NewsHour, and the Judiciary Committee Democrat who got a chance to express the opposite point of view was Minnesotan Al Franken, who did a good job. Franken thinks the Republican wall will crack, and may already have started cracking, as some Republicans have suggested they might be willing to have a private meeting with Garland. I’m skeptical, but we’ll see.

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If you’d like to watch that Hatch and Franken segment, I’ve put it below.

For those who wonder whether I’m going overboard in my dismissal of the Republican claim to have history and precedent and principle on their side on this, I should concede that only rarely over recent decades has the Senate confirmed a nominee in the eighth year of a two-term president’s tenure. But that’s because there have been so few such vacancies.

Turnover on the Supreme Court is relatively rare. Many justices apparently time their retirements to avoid a situation like the current one. Scalia couldn’t help it. He just died. But I repeat my favorite fact on the subject, which doesn’t get nearly the attention it should:

The Republicans have not and cannot cite a single case in which a president declined to nominate a candidate for any opening on the Supreme Court on the grounds that it was the eighth year of their presidency and it was important to let the voters weigh in. Nor can they cite a single instance — before this one — in which the Senate refused to consider such a nomination. Seems like a fairly big problem for the claim that this is a long-standing and well-established practice or principle.

OK, here’s the NewsHour segment, including the Hatch and Franken interviews.