With Donald Trump becoming the presumptive Republican nominee for President last week, some conservatives urged the Senate to confirm President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, because they had already given up hope of a Republican victory in the fall. (Note polls today show that Trump is in a dead heat in key states.) Putting aside any debate over the outcome of the November election for the moment, this advice to Senate Republicans is not sound.
As Hans von Spakovsky and Elizabeth Slattery explained, the point of Senate Republicans' refusal to hold hearings or a vote on Garland's nomination was not to obstruct President Obama's ability to fill another seat on the Supreme Court but rather to let the people speak on the nomination:
The goal of the Senate Leadership’s decision to provide their “Advice” to the president by sitting on the nomination was not to deny Mr. Obama another appointment to the Supreme Court. Rather, the goal was to give the American people the ability to weigh in on who should fill this crucial seat when they cast their votes this November and decide who will be the next president.
This decision upholds a longstanding Senate tradition. As Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has pointed out, for more than 80 years it has been the upper chamber’s standard practice not to confirm Supreme Court nominees for vacancies that arise during a presidential election year.
If the Senate Republicans changed their decision now, they would be betraying the principle they have been upholding for nearly two months and the people they represent:
Without the Senate’s support, an outgoing president is not entitled to make a decision about a critical position with lifetime tenure in the third branch of government that will affect the country for decades after that president’s term has long ended.
As Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, “I, for one, believe we ought to be consistent, and that consistent principle is the American people deserve to be heard and their voices heeded on who makes that selection to something as important as filling this vacancy on the Supreme Court.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., put it more bluntly: “We can’t have it both ways…We cannot say ‘let the people speak,’ and then say ‘no, you can’t.’”
If Senate Republicans choose to change their strategy at this point, they would be turning their backs on the groundswell of grassroots support for what they are doing, as well as the principle they have fought for—that the American people deserve a voice in this process.