Supreme Court fight colors battle for the Senate

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Senate Democrats say Hillary Clinton should ignore pressure from liberals who want her to make a younger, more progressive pick for the Supreme Court than Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee.

Democrats facing tough races in the next cycle don’t want Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, to spend her political capital on a messy fight over the court — and the hot-button social issues under its jurisdiction — during her first 100 days in office.

{mosads}They also don’t want to have to defend a more liberal pick ahead of a tough reelection cycle in 2018.

Democrats will be defending 25 seats, compared to just eight for Republicans that year, including in states such as North Dakota, Montana, West Virginia and Missouri. All are tough places for the party to win in presidential, let alone midterm, elections.

The Democrats would prefer that Clinton, if she is elected, focus her time and attention on passing legislation they can run on as a major accomplishment, such as an infrastructure investment package.

A senior Senate Democratic aide whose boss faces a competitive reelection in 2018 said, “Not one of those vulnerable Democrats is going to run on the Supreme Court; they can run on an infrastructure bill.”

Clinton will be under pressure from liberals who want a bolder choice for the Supreme Court than Garland, who has won compliments from Republicans even as they have blockaded any consideration of his nomination.  

“It makes no sense for Democrats to re-nominate Garland after the election and after winning a fresh mandate to govern progressively,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “It would symbolize a return to a Democratic Party intent on squandering leverage and blowing an opportunity to inspire the public.”

Green said liberals are unenthusiastic about Garland, who turns 64 in November, making him the oldest nominee since Lewis Powell was nominated at the same age in 1971.

Looking at the long game, they would prefer a younger judge who could serve on the court for decades.

“We saw some of the highest grassroots energy in our eight-year history in the run-up to the president’s Supreme Court nomination, and when the choice was Merrick Garland, that energy completely plummeted,” Green said.

Democrats and allied liberal groups have pressed Senate Republicans to confirm Garland while Obama is still in office, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ruled out the possibility last week.

He said the next president will have to make a new nomination.

“We’ve already made it very clear that a nomination for the Supreme Court by this president will not be filled this year,” he said at a press conference Tuesday.

Clinton said in a Thursday radio interview that she would not feel obligated to resubmit Garland’s name to the Senate.

She pledged on the “Tom Joyner Morning Show” to “look broadly and widely for people who represent the diversity of our country.”

Democrats are seeking to win the Senate in 2016. They need to net four seats and retain the White House to get back the majority.

It’s a tall order but is possible. Democrats are expected to gain seats in Wisconsin and Illinois and are favored in Indiana. Polls suggest they are running behind in Ohio and the race to succeed Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, but they also have shots to gain seats in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, with longer-shot gains possible in Missouri, North Carolina and Florida.

The problem is that the map changes dramatically in 2018, when Republicans would be favored to either pad their majority or win it back.

As a result, senators are already focused not only on 2016, but on the races two years from now.

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), who is running for reelection as Senate Democratic whip after the election, told reporters this past week that Clinton should renominate Garland, even though he acknowledged no one can be certain how liberal or conservative he would be as a justice. 

“If McConnell holds fast and refuses and Democrats take the majority or not, I would recommend to the new President Clinton to consider his nomination. I think he is an extraordinary choice by President Obama,” Durbin said of Garland.

Durbin acknowledged after meeting with Garland on Wednesday that he doesn’t know for sure how he would rule on major issues but said he isn’t too worried.

“I don’t presume where he’ll end up on the political spectrum, I just know that he’s an extraordinarily talented, fair-minded man,” he said.

“To say that he’s going to be conservative or liberal at this point would be a leap of faith. I just don’t think that you can make that prediction with any certainty,” he said.

Jo Comerford, a campaign director at, a leading liberal group, said the Senate should confirm Garland this year but added that Clinton should pick someone else if it doesn’t get done by January.

“Obviously, if we’re in a new Congress with a new president, that’s a new situation, and we certainly don’t think it should be taken as a given that Merrick Garland should be renominated,” she said. “We’d hope the president would consider a number of potential nominees and listen closely to public-interest groups in making a decision on who to nominate.”

Tags Dick Durbin Harry Reid Hillary Clinton Mitch McConnell
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