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The Daily Tar Heel
View from the Hill

Seat still empty on country's highest court

As if the upcoming presidential elections haven't been controversial enough, the U.S. Senate is refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination for Supreme Court Justice.

“The President now has nominated someone most would consider qualified,” said Frank Baumgartner, a UNC political science professor, in an email.

Baumgartner is speaking about Merrick Garland, the chief judge currently serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. Garland is considered to be a moderate by many legislators and political analysts.

The next step, which is the U.S. Senate holding hearings on Garland, is delayed until the body recognizes the nomination. Until then, there will be a missing justice on the bench — after the death of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. 

“This will be an unprecedented snub to the constitutional rights of a sitting president,” Baumgartner said.

In a speech delivered on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell referenced the “Biden rule” — that once the political season is underway, action on a Supreme Court nomination should be put off until the election is over.

"President Obama is doing a disservice to voters with this attempt to tip the balance of the court with a liberal justice in the eleventh hour of his presidency," said Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee Chairperson, in a statement.

Isaac Unah, an associate professor of political science at UNC, said Republican senators are dragging their feet. Though the current political climate in the Senate shows a reluctance from either party to get much done in a variety of instances inside and outside of the judicial branch, he said.

Unah said it is not unusual for political party members to try and be as oppositional as possible. But Garland is probably the most agreeable Democratic nominee that could be hoped for in this situation, he said. 

Kevin McGuire, a UNC political science professor, said in an email that the norm for a nominee is to be given full consideration for the Senate after the president selects his candidate.

“To refuse to take any action on an otherwise qualified nominee is unusual,” he said.

The Senate, especially the Republican senators, is continuing to dawdle in hopes of holding off nominations until the next president is elected later this year, Unah said. 

So what happens if elected representatives are refusing to do their job?

McGuire said there is no way around the Senate at this point. Once the judge has been nominated by Obama, the president’s only power lies in swaying public opinion.

But until the Senate begins to hold hearings or rejects the nomination, there is no reason that Obama should even consider withdrawing the nomination, Unah said. The Senate has effectively put both the judicial and executive branches of government in gridlock.

“The one thing that is clear is that this partisan debate definitely pulls the court closer to partisan politics," Baumgartner said. 

Unah said regardless of party, this process is frustrating. 

“It does not really matter which party you belong to, you should be upset by this,” he said.

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