MUTINY: GOP Senators Break With Establishment, Agree To Meet With SCOTUS Nominee


Calculating that a well-liked moderate would put the spotlight on Republican congressional intransigence, today President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia. As expected, the move drew immediate nays from Senate majority leadership, but some members of the caucus are more open to meeting with Garland.

Susan Collins of Maine told The Hill that she will see Garland in April.

‘”The White House has asked me to meet with him, and I’ve agreed to do so,” Collins said. “I’ve never refused an offer to meet with a nominee to the Supreme Court; that has always been my standard practice. And, so, I have accepted that offer, and it will be scheduled after the recess.”

Asked if she thinks Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will change his mind, the Maine Republican said no.

‘”I don’t see the majority leader changing his mind on this issue. He believes strongly that this should be a decision made by the next president. I don’t agree with that decision, but I respect it,” she said. “The irony, however, will be if the next president, whoever that may be, ends up nominating a person who is far more liberal than Judge Garland, who is considered to be a centrist.”‘

Although they will not be able to secure his confirmation, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Rob Portman of Ohio, Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are also willing to at least meet with Garland before saying no.

What these senators all have in common is that they represent blue states or swing states. Recent polls show that obstruction of Obama’s SCOTUS nomination is unpopular in those states and may even threaten the GOP’s hold on the Senate.

Jim Inhofe, the snowball-wielding climate change denier from deep-red Oklahoma, says he is willing to meet Garland but will leave Scalia’s seat empty.

Meanwhile, Senate Republican leadership is standing firm. Judiciary Committee leader Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who has the most power to block a SCOTUS nomination, pronounced Garland’s nomination “dead on arrival.” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is citing a phony “Biden rule” to excuse the unprecedented barrier his caucus has erected.

This campaign to stifle Garland’s appointment is not happening in a vacuum. In fact, McConnell is being responsive to right wing lobbying groups such as the Judicial Crisis Network, which used to be the Judicial Confirmation Network when it pushed to have President Bush’s SCOTUS nominees confirmed. The organization has since changed its name to oppose Obama’s nominations.

Fed by ‘dark money’ donations from unknown right wing billionaires, JCN shares a the 12th Street NW, Washington D.C. address with Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and seems most concerned with maintaining the Citizens United ruling as the law of the land.

Of course, the Supreme Court seems to have changed quite a bit without Scalia. Despite a 4-4 ideological split on the bench, liberals appear to have the upper hand at oral arguments, and Justice Thomas has been the lone dissenter. Chief Justice John Roberts has signaled he is unwilling to gut environmental regulations to order for the fossil fuel industry. And with the Court’s biggest advocate of corporate power gone, Dow Chemical has decided to settle a billion-dollar antitrust lawsuit rather than risk an appeal.

But Mitch McConnell is only concerned with maintaining his Senate majority, which requires dark money support, yet also puts some of his members in electoral jeopardy. That’s why he’ll allow these senators some wiggle-room instead of keeping them in line.

 Featured image via John Taylor/ Flickr under Creative Commons license