U.S. chief justice refuses to force vote on Obama high court pick

Reuters News
|
Posted: Dec 19, 2016 1:49 PM

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Monday rejected a New Mexico lawyer's long-shot bid to force a Senate confirmation vote on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, after Republican senators refused to act on his nomination.

Steven Michel, a Santa Fe environmental attorney, filed suit in U.S. federal court in August, arguing that the Republican-led Senate's failure to act on Garland's nomination deprived Michel of his rights as a voter under the U.S. Constitution's 17th Amendment, which outlines how senators are elected.

The U.S. Constitution calls on the president to nominate Supreme Court justices, with confirmation of the selection in the hands of the Senate. The Senate, in a move with little precedent in U.S. history, simply refused to consider Garland's nomination, saying the winner of the Nov. 8 presidential election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton should make the pick.

Michel lost in lower courts before Roberts denied the emergency application on Monday without comment.

Obama nominated Garland, a moderate appeals court judge, on March 16 to fill the vacant seat on the high court created by the Feb. 13 death of long-serving conservative Antonin Scalia. Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, will now make the appointment.

On Jan. 18, Garland will resume hearing cases in his current position as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, according to the court's calendar. Garland had stepped aside from hearing cases after Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court.

The court currently has four conservative justices and four liberals. Scalia's replacement could tilt its ideological balance for years to come, restoring the long-standing conservative majority just at a time when it appeared liberals would get an upper hand on the bench.

This could be pivotal in a wide range of issues including abortion, the death penalty, religious rights, presidential powers, transgender rights, federal regulations and others.

Trump previously unveiled a list of 21 conservative jurists he would consider for the job and said this month he had whittled the list down to "probably three or four." Last week, Trump's incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said the announcement would be made close the new president's Jan 20 inauguration.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)