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Garland could get Senate hearing if pressure mounts, Murray says

Judge Merrick Garland, left, President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, meets with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Republican senators, at the insistence of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., remain steadfast in refusing to hold hearings or a confirmation vote on the nomination. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
Judge Merrick Garland, left, President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, meets with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Republican senators, at the insistence of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., remain steadfast in refusing to hold hearings or a confirmation vote on the nomination. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Pressure from voters back home might erase the barrier Republican leaders have placed on hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, Washington’s senior senator said Wednesday.

But President Obama is unlikely to test the constitutionality of Senate inaction by appointing him if there are no hearings, Democrat Patty Murray said.

Murray met with Garland on Wednesday afternoon and called him a “very smart pragmatist” who is qualified for a seat on the nation’s highest court.

“I was especially interested in his thinking about the right to privacy and how it relates to women’s reproductive rights,” she said. They also discussed campaign finance reform and cases involving workers’ rights to organize.

A four-term incumbent seeking re-election this year, Murray said it was the first time she’d met Garland, although she had previously voted to confirm him for his current seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals.

“My constituents in Washington have a right to hear these views as well,” she said. The only way that will happen is if the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on his nomination, she added.

More Senate Republicans have agreed to meet with Garland, Murray said. That, coupled with pressure from people in their home states, might prompt GOP leaders to reverse their stance that no president should be allowed to appoint a justice to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court in his or her last year in office.

“They stall this at their own peril,” Murray said. “They can vote no (on confirmation) if they want.”

Two Republicans who want nothing to do with Garland are Idaho’s conservative duo of Mike Crapo and Jim Risch. In separate interviews, they said they had no plans to meet with Garland, calling him an activist judge who’s on the wrong side of gun rights.

“He has an antipathy toward the Second Amendment right…. That’s enough, in and of itself, for me,” Crapo said.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell hasn’t met with Garland, but her spokesman said Cantwell, a Democrat, hoped to arrange a meeting in coming weeks.

Some legal scholars have suggested that Obama could appoint Garland to the court if the Senate doesn’t hold hearings. The Constitution says the president nominates justices “and with and by the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint” them. Under that theory, if the Senate doesn’t hold hearings, at some point it essentially waives its advice and consent function, and Obama would be free to appoint Garland.

That tactic, however, would almost certainly be challenged in court.

A column suggesting that scenario appeared recently in the Washington Post, and Murray said someone had mentioned it to her recently.

“I can’t imagine that happening,” she said.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

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