While some Republican U.S. senators say they would prevent Democrat Hillary Clinton from appointing any Supreme Court justices if she’s elected president, West Virginia’s senators say they’ll at least consider any nominees put forth, no matter who is president.
“I think making a blanket statement that nominees should be blocked for four years leads to partisan gridlock, and that is not a direction I would want to go,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told the Gazette-Mail this week.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, grabbed headlines last week when he said there was a precedent for the court operating with fewer than nine justices. The Supreme Court has been operating with eight justices since Antonin Scalia died in February.
Also, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told a radio station that Republicans “will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up. I promise you.” McCain later softened those comments.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who is in a tight re-election race, was more direct. An audio recording of a private speech that was released this week caught Burr telling Republican supporters that he would block any Clinton nominee until 2020.
“If Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure, four years from now, we’ve still got an opening on the Supreme Court,” Burr said in the recording that was obtained by CNN.
Capito said Monday that she does not agree with that type of intentional obstructionism. “I would disagree strongly with Senator Cruz’s recent comments,” she said.
But Capito added that she wants the next justice to have a record of supporting gun rights and opposing environmental regulations like the Clean Power Plan — requirements that likely would lead to deadlock anyway, on Supreme Court candidates, if Clinton wins the election and Republicans keep control of the Senate. Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have vowed to appoint Supreme Court nominees whose records closely align with their public stances on abortion, guns, environmental regulations and unlimited spending on political campaigns.
“I am looking for somebody who would add a conservative voice to the court, somebody who has a more strict interpretation of the Constitution,” Capito said, adding that she believes that is what West Virginians want, as well.
Within hours of Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that the justice’s replacement should be picked by President Barack Obama’s replacement. Capito and most Republican senators fell in line behind McConnell, and stayed there after Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, for the open seat.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., met with Garland in April and said the Senate should vote on his nomination.
“I will give fair consideration to all Supreme Court nominees under any president and will evaluate their qualifications, legal record and judicial philosophy,” Manchin said in a prepared statement this week. “I believe any nominee deserves to be questioned by a Senate committee, meet with senators and have their qualifications debated on the Senate floor.”
Capito reiterated Monday that she opposes Garland’s nomination because it is too close to the presidential election, although Obama nominated the current federal appeals court judge nearly eight months before Tuesday’s coming election and nearly a year before Obama’s term ends.
Capito said she believes Trump will win the presidency and that everything, at this point, is hypothetical because Clinton has not named the people she would consider for the lifetime seat. Capito added that she would not “prejudge any candidates.”
In his remarks, Cruz said the current eight-member court is not inhibiting the justices from doing their job, even though lower court rulings are automatically upheld if the legal ruling is tied.
Since the Supreme Court was set at nine justices in 1869, the longest a seat has been empty is 391 days, from May 1969 to June 1970. That happened because the Democrat-led Senate voted on and rejected Republican President Richard Nixon’s first two choices for the court. When Obama’s term ends, the Supreme Court seat formerly occupied by Scalia will have been vacant for 341 days.
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