President Obama’s nomination Wednesday of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court came 180 years and one day after the Senate confirmed Roger Taney as chief justice of the United States on a 29-15 vote. Taney had been nominated three months earlier, on Dec. 28, 1835, by President Andrew Jackson, who did not seek reelection in 1836. Obama is unlikely to get the same outcome in his final year in the White House, at least not until the next presidential election has come.
— While polls show a majority of voters say the nominee should receive a vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s argument against it is that while Obama won the 2012 election, Republicans were clearly the preferred party in 2014, picking up nine Senate seats and expanding their House majority. While that wasn’t a national election, Republicans’ control of the Senate gives them the right not to consent to Obama’s pick — and they prefer to let the next president nominate someone. “The American people deserve a voice,” McConnell said in a USA Today op-ed. And the pressure from Obama and Senate Democrats is unlikely to change his mind.
— That’s of course a risky gambit, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at this point the two most likely to serve as the next president. Trump is a wild card, and Clinton could nominate someone more liberal than Garland. But in case of a Clinton victory, Republicans have left open the possibility of a lame duck confirmation for Garland, which further enraged Democrats.
— Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid linked the battle over the Supreme Court nomination to Trump and argued it will be detrimental to the GOP’s already tenuous hold on the Senate majority. “Time will only tell, but I can’t imagine how this is going to help the Republicans who are running for the Senate,” Reid said Thursday in a speech at the Center for American Progress. His address came just as senators headed home for a two-week recess, when Reid hopes they will hear it from voters.
But Republicans are betting that turning off their conservative base by Obama getting a third Supreme Court justice confirmed would be far more detrimental to their chances in November than what the party will see from the general electorate for delaying. The party is already dealing with significant fissures among its voters and faces the potential for a contested convention. In four months, Trump as Republican standard bearer could be its new reality, and the fallout from that remains the most intriguing unknown of 2016.
— Kyle Trygstad