As the fight to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia heats up, the conservative grassroots are holding potentially waffling Republican senators’ feet to the fire.
Radio talk show host and former Reagan administration appointee Hugh Hewitt began the hashtag #NoHearingNoVotes on Friday as a way to rally Republicans in Washington, D.C. to stand firm in Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge not to move forward on an Obama nominee during a presidential election year.
The Daily Signal reports that Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina are Republicans worth closely watching to see what they may do if the president puts forward a nominee, as he has promised to do.
Fourteen Republicans would have to join with the 46 Democrats in the Senate in order to approve an Obama nominee to the court. So far, 31 of the GOP senators have ruled out voting for a replacement for Scalia this year, leaving 23 who have not ruled out casting the vote, the New York Times reported.
Murkowski, who is the most liberal Republican seeking re-election in 2016, initially told reporters in Alaska that “I do believe that the nominee should get a hearing,” adding, “That doesn’t necessarily mean that that ends up in a vote. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether or not this individual, based on their record … should be named to the highest court in the land.”
After receiving negative blowback from Hewitt and others, the senator appeared to walk back her statement the next day, posting on Facebook: “While the President has the Constitutional prerogative to send a nominee to the Senate for consent, it is left to the Senate to determine how to proceed after that. Given the timing of this vacancy, in the middle of our Presidential election, the American people will clearly be weighing in on the direction of the Supreme Court.”
She went on to urge President Barack Obama to follow precedent and allow his successor to appoint a replacement for Justice Scalia, and acknowledged the Senate does have the right to deny the nominee an up or down vote.
Hewitt accused Murkowski of waffling, implying she may not be a reliable supporter to block an Obama nominee.
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) February 19, 2016
The talk show host also targeted Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., for his initial comments about replacing Scalia this year. The senator called for a wait-and-see approach, saying maybe the president would nominate a Nevadan.
His spokesman later made clear that the senator believes the president should not nominate a replacement.
@StevenTDennis Heller is calling on POTUS to violate Article II of Constitution. “The President SHALL nominate..” not “may” but “shall”.
— lestatdelc (@lestatdelc) February 17, 2016
Sen. Kirk stated on Monday that it his his “duty” to give an Obama nominee an up or down vote. The Hill reported that Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has not ruled out the possibility of a hearing if the president nominates someone, though he wrote an op-ed with Sen. McConnell arguing Obama should not.
As reported by Western Journalism, Democrats including President Obama and Sen. Chuck Schumer are seemingly engaging in the heights of hypocrisy in calling on Republicans to fulfill their constitutional duty and move quickly to approve a nominee to the court.
Both voted to filibuster Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination, and Schumer called on the Senate not to approve any of President George W. Bush’s possible nominees to the high court during his last 18 months in office, except under “extraordinary circumstances.”
The Daily Signal noted that when the Democrats controlled the Senate in 1992, they purposely delayed Pres. George H.W. Bush’s judicial appointments at all levels in order to leave at least 50 vacancies for a possible Democrat successor, who turned out to be Bill Clinton.
According to the Heritage Foundation, Senate Democrats engaged in similar delaying tactics, once again, in the early 2000s after George W. Bush became president, and they controlled the Senate. By the end of his first two years in office, the number of openings in the federal courts had increased from 67 to 77, indicating Senate approvals were not even keeping up with retirements from the bench.
Among the more high profile instances was when the Democrats first blocked Miguel Estrada’s appointment to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2001, and then filibustered the nominee after the Republicans took over the Senate in 2002. Estrada had the support of the majority of senators needed for approval, but Republicans could not break the filibuster, so the nominee withdrew his name from consideration.
While conservatives urge Senate Republicans to stand firm, it would appear many Senate Democrats have no legs on which to stand when urging quick election-year action to replace Scalia.