Another Senate Republican Admits His Party's Supreme Court Blockade Is All About Politics

Just hours after President Obama announced his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, several Senate Republicans said that they would refuse to even consider Garland’s nomination and repeated their claim that whoever wins the presidential election should be the one to fill the vacancy on the court.

These Republicans continue to justify their obstruction by pointing to a nonexistent tradition and a made-up constitutional principle that the Senate doesn’t vote on nominees to the Supreme Court in election years. They seem to be sticking with this talking point even though a cursory glance at congressional history (and the Constitution) shows that the argument is completely baseless.

According to Republicans, Obama’s presidency is effectively over nearly a year before the end of his second term.

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., admitted that Republicans are going into unchartered waters with their unprecedented blockade. The GOP has decided to stand by this “principle,” no matter how wrong-headed it is, in order to claim that their maneuvering has nothing to do with partisan politics.

But Sen. Jeff Flake today exposed that argument as nothing but an excuse.

The Arizona Republican said that the Senate should consider Garland in a lame duck session if Hillary Clinton is elected president, fearing that Clinton would appoint a jurist who is more liberal than Garland.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican on the Judiciary Committee who is generally deferential on presidential nominees, said “yes” when asked whether he would move to confirm Garland in the lame-duck session if Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, wins in November.

“For those of us who are concerned about the direction of the court and wanting at least a more centrist figure than between him and somebody that President Clinton might nominate, I think the choice is clear — in a lame duck,” Flake said Wednesday after Obama named Garland.

Sen. Orrin Hatch also said he was open to a vote but only in the lame-duck session, and NPR’s Nina Totenberg has “learned that Senate Republicans have signaled via ‘back channels’ that they would approve Garland, but only after the general election in November.”

Flake’s suggestion shows the absurdity of the party’s blockade. If the GOP’s Supreme Court blockade was really about the principle that Obama’s successor should appoint the next justice, then Flake shouldn’t care whether President Clinton would appoint a more liberal figure than Garland.

And if the GOP really thinks that March 2016 is too late to consider an Obama nominee, then why would November or December of this year be appropriate?

Flake knows that the GOP’s stance is all about politics and that their “tradition” talking point is not only erroneous but also an attempt to avoid the charge that they are trying to play partisan politics with the Supreme Court.

Flake’s Republican colleague Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin made a similar admission when he confessed that the Senate would have considered a nominee in the president’s final year had that president been a Republican.

If it wasn’t, then he wouldn’t propose a lame-duck session to approve Garland’s nomination just in case a President-elect Clinton decides to appoint someone less to the GOP’s liking.