Do Republicans Have Amnesia Over How They Treated Merrick Garland?

“We don’t conduct partisan filibusters of Supreme Court nominees," said one GOP senator.

WASHINGTON ― There’s a surreal aspect to this week’s Senate confirmation fight over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch: The more reasons Republicans give for why he deserves a vote, the more they reinforce how badly they treated President Barack Obama’s pick for the court, Merrick Garland.

GOP senators spent most of 2016 preventing Garland from getting a vote. Obama nominated him in March, and Republicans, who controlled the Senate, ignored him. They denied Garland a hearing. Some wouldn’t even meet with him. He was a moderate pick whom many Republicans actually liked, and a respected judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. They just didn’t want Obama to fill the empty court seat.

Yet, now that President Donald Trump’s nominee is scheduled for a key vote on Thursday and Democrats plan to filibuster him (which won’t stop him from being confirmed), Republicans are outraged that Democrats would treat a Supreme Court nominee this way.

Their arguments for why Gorsuch deserves a vote sound, well, familiar.

“When you win the White House, you have the ability to appoint people to the Supreme Court,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday. “I’m not going to be part of a Senate where Democrats get their judges and Republicans can never get theirs.”

“I’m very disappointed in my colleagues to politicize this the way they have,” scolded Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Monday.

“All they can come up with are facts that have absolutely nothing to do with his qualifications as a jurist,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

These are all points being made, without irony, by the same senators who opposed even giving a hearing to Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Democrats made these exact arguments last year to explain why Garland deserved a vote. It’s easy enough to imagine; just swap in “Garland” for “Gorsuch” as GOP senators explain why Trump’s nominee deserves fair treatment.

“We are simply asking for a fair vote. A vote!” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said Wednesday. “Let us move past these political games.”

“The president has nominated an exceptionally qualified judge to take Justice Scalia’s seat,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Judiciary Committee and refused to schedule a hearing for Garland all year. “We don’t conduct partisan filibusters of Supreme Court nominees.”

“I do not believe Judge Gorsuch is getting a fair shake in today’s Senate,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Wednesday.

“When you win the White House, you have the ability to appoint people to the Supreme Court,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“When you win the White House, you have the ability to appoint people to the Supreme Court,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

It’s hard to believe these senators don’t see how their own words fly in the face of how they handled Garland’s nomination. They never gave him a committee hearing, yet some are mad that Democrats opposed Gorsuch in his.

“Every Democrat voted no,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) lamented on Monday. “Not based on qualifications. Not based on temperament. Not based on anything in his record.”

Of course, when it looked like Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would win the presidency last fall, it was Cruz who said Republicans might block future Supreme Court nominees indefinitely and argued that the court functions just fine with eight justices instead of nine.

One of Republicans’ complaints this week is that Democrats are breaking with precedent by vowing to filibuster Gorsuch. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been mentioning it regularly and tweeting about it.

In a technical sense, he’s right. There has never been a party-line filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. But it was McConnell who led last year’s unprecedented and partisan effort to deny Garland a hearing or a vote ― a filibuster, in effect ― and argued that the next president should get to fill the court vacancy, even though Obama had a year left in his presidency.

McConnell felt pretty good about doing it, too.

“One of my proudest moments was when I looked at Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy,’” he boasted to constituents in August.

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