Leahy presses GOP in court fight

Leahy presses GOP in court fight
© Greg Nash

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules MORE, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on Republicans Friday to uphold the chamber’s tradition of voting on Supreme Court nominees, even in election years.

The Vermont senator noted that more than a dozen nominees to the high court have been confirmed in presidential election years and urged his colleagues not to break this tradition.


“It is false to say that Supreme Court justices do not get confirmed in presidential election years,” he said in remarks delivered to the New England First Amendment Coalition.

“Although vacancies during an election year are rare, more than a dozen Supreme Court justices have been confirmed in presidential election years. The most recent one was in President Reagan’s final year in office.”

The debate over Senate precedent has heated up to a boil since the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday, which has given President Obama a chance to change the ideological balance of the high court with what would be his third nominee.

Both sides have used the nomination battle over Justice Anthony Kennedy to make their points.

Democrats have noted that the Senate voted to confirm Kennedy, former President Reagan’s nominee, in February of 1988 by a vote of 97 to 0. The chamber was controlled by Democrats at the time.

Republicans, however, argue that Kennedy was nominated in 1987, before the presidential election contest revved up.

Leahy predicted Friday that Republican efforts to deny Obama’s expected nominee would constitute a gross violation of Senate norms and traditions.

“To preemptively reject any consideration of the next Supreme Court justice is unprecedented and dangerous. I do not expect this partisan gamesmanship to succeed,” he said.

Leahy’s remarks put pressure on Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces White House denies exploring payroll tax cut to offset worsening economy Schumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord MORE (R-Iowa) in what could be a test of their usually collegial relationship.

Grassley has come under fire in recent days for saying the nomination should wait until after the presidential election, though he has since opened the door to possibly holding hearings, depending on whom the nominee is.

Pundits speculate Obama may nominate Jane Kelly of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

She was confirmed 96 to 0 in 2013 with the backing of Grassley, and is from Iowa.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidNo, it is not racist to question birthright citizenship McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' MORE (Nev.) on Thursday predicted Obama will announce his nominee in three weeks.

Republicans on Friday pushed back against the pressure tactics from Democrats by pointing to a speech Reid delivered on the Senate floor in 2005 arguing that Democrats, who were in the minority, were under no obligation to allow up-or-down votes on then-President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.

“The duties of the United States Senate are set forth in the Constitution of the United States. Nowhere in that document does it say the Senate has a duty to give presidential nominees a vote,” he said.