Dem senators press for hearings on high court nominee

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Posted: Mar 30, 2016 2:44 PM
Dem senators press for hearings on high court nominee

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Senate Democrats increased the pressure on their Republican colleagues to consider President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, with New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen insisting that it's time for lawmakers to "get on with it" and do their jobs.

Outside the federal courthouse in the state capital and inside Senate offices in the U.S. Capitol, Democrats on Wednesday dismissed the GOP argument that Obama's successor should fill the vacancy after the American voters have a say in November elections.

Earlier this month, the president nominated federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Feb. 13.

"The idea that we should not do this in an election year is just something that's been made up for partisan reasons," said Shaheen, who called Republican leadership's refusal to hold a hearing or vote on Garland's nomination a "response to the most extreme voices that we're hearing in the country right now."

In Washington, Garland traveled to the Capitol to meet with two Democratic senators — Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Al Franken of Minnesota. Although the Senate was on recess, the White House and Democrats were using every opportunity to make their case for action on Garland's nomination.

Among the Senate's 54 Republicans, Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who met Garland on Tuesday, Susan Collins of Maine and Jerry Moran of Kansas have expressed support for a hearing and openness to a vote.

"I hope other Republican colleagues follow their lead," Gillibrand said. "They are doing the right thing and they should hopefully convince colleagues to also do the right thing."

At least 15 Republicans have said they are willing to meet with Garland but remain steadfast in their opposition to hearings and a vote.

Shaheen largely avoided direct criticism of fellow New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a vulnerable Republican locked in one of the Senate's most high-profile races against the popular Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. Shaheen said the two haven't spoken directly about Garland's nomination, but she did say election-year politics are no excuse to keep the court seat vacant.

That vacancy loomed large on Tuesday when the high court deadlocked 4-4 on a labor case that proved to be a major victory for unions.

Ayotte plans to meet with Garland after initially saying she would not, but she has not called for hearings.

"When we took the oath of office it didn't say 'I will defend and protect the Constitution in only non-election years,'" Shaheen said. "Should we say anytime there's an election year for a senator we're not supposed to act on votes that may be controversial?"

In response, Liz Johnson, a spokeswoman for Ayotte, said the court seat is a "lifetime appointment that will have a significant impact on our country for years to come, and while Kelly has said she will meet with the nominee out of courtesy and respect, she continues to believe the people should have a voice in the direction of the court."

On Capitol Hill, Franken challenged that logic.

"I'm hearing certain things come from Republican senators that are contradictory," he told reporters after meeting with Garland. "They say, 'well they want the American people to decide.' The American people have decided. They voted for President Obama twice, and scientists tell us we have 10 months left in his term."

Shaheen was joined by former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice John Broderick, a well-known Democrat, who called it unnecessary to leave a court seat vacant until after the election.

She said her remarks are "aimed at everybody who is refusing to consider a nominee in an election year," and specifically targeted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Building on that theme, No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois emailed a fundraising appeal to supporters Wednesday, saying Democrats must win Senate control "not just to ensure a functioning Supreme Court but to bring a sense of responsibility and duty back to Washington."

Seeking contributions for himself and Hassan, Durbin wrote, "Maggie is exactly the kind of leader we need to end the Republican obstructionism of judicial nominees."

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Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.