Biden: Blocking Garland will lead to 'patchwork Constitution'

Getty Images

Vice President Biden on Thursday will urge the Senate to confirm Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, warning that leaving only eight justices on the bench could undermine the American legal system. 

The vice president will also use a speech at the Georgetown University Law Center to defend his record on judicial confirmations, pushing back at Republicans who have seized on his past comments about confirming justices in an election year. 

Leaving a seat vacant creates the possibility of a 4-4 tie in consequential cases, which leaves a lower court’s decision is in place. 

That could result in a “patchwork Constitution” where laws are unevenly applied throughout the country, Biden will say, according to excerpts provided by his office.

“The longer this high court vacancy remains unfilled, the more serious a problem we will face — a problem compounded by turbulence, confusion, and uncertainty about our safety and security, our liberty and privacy, the future of our children and grandchildren,” he will say. 

“Dysfunction and partisanship are bad enough on Capitol Hill,” he plans to say. “But we can’t let the Senate spread this dysfunction to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

The first deadlock since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia occurred this week in a real estate case. 

But the high court is expected to issue decisions more significant cases this summer, including one on President Obama’s executive actions on immigration and a challenge to a Texas law that resulted in the closure of many of the state’s abortion clinics. 

“The meaning and extent of your federal constitutional rights — from your freedom of speech, to your freedom to follow the teachings of your religious faith, to your right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure — all could depend on where you happen to live,” the vice president will say.

The speech is Biden’s first entrance into the political battle over Garland's nomination. 

The White House traditionally turns to the former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman to push its agenda in the Senate, where he served nearly four decades. 

But Biden’s name has already been used in an attack by Republicans, who have pledged not to hold hearings or a vote on Obama's nominee.

GOP senators have repeatedly referred to a 1992 Biden speech, in which he argued the Senate should delay consideration of a hypothetical high court nominee until after that year's elections, to accuse Democrats of hypocrisy.

“Once the political season is underway, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over,” Biden said in that speech. 

The then-senator also said the costs of having only eight justices on the court “are quite minor compared to the cost that a nominee, the president, the Senate, and the nation would have to pay for what would assuredly be a bitter fight.” 

Biden will counter that during his time helming the judiciary panel he considered eight nominees to the high court, all of whom received hearings and a vote, including Anthony Kennedy during President Reagan’s final year in office. 

“Every nominee, including Justice Kennedy — in an election year — got an up or down vote by the Senate,” he will say. “Not much of the time. Not most of the time. Every single time.”

The vice president will argue Republican senators "owe it to the American people" to give Garland "an up or down vote." 

The president has fully discharged his constitutional obligation,” he plans to say. “Now it is up to the Senate to do the same, as all American expect them to do."