Coons: Senators should meet with High Court nominee

DOVER — U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Wednesday he looks forward to examining the record of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and hopes Republicans will hold a confirmation hearing.

Sen. Coons, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, attended the morning ceremony at the White House where the president announced he is nominating Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, for the vacant post on the nation’s high court.

He would replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month.

Chief Judge Garland, 63, was named to the court by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and confirmed 19 years ago.

Sen. Chris Coons

Sen. Chris Coons

“I was truly impressed by the judge’s comments,” Sen. Coons told reporters in a conference call. “His decency, his balance, his life story, his background all suggest a nominee eminently qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.”

Delaware’s junior senator said he will urge Republican senators, who have called for letting the next president pick a justice, to meet with the judge and schedule a committee hearing.

Republican leaders have steadfastly opposed confirming any nominee by President Obama, who is in the last year of his presidency.

“As we continue working on issues like these, the American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “So let’s give them a voice. The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the nominee the next president nominates, whoever that might be.”

Delaware’s senior senator, Democrat Tom Carper, said Judge Garland has a reputation as a consensus builder. That’s an important quality for any Supreme Court Justice, Sen. Carper said in a statement, “but it’s particularly important at a time when the court and our country remains divided on too many issues.”

Sen. Carper noted that Judge Garland previously was confirmed by the Senate with a strong bipartisan vote.

“He has served this country well on the federal bench for nearly two decades,” Sen. Carper said. “The president has done his job, and now it’s time that we do ours.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement Wednesday, “A lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics.”

Sen. Coons argued Republicans who refuse to consider the nominee are disrespecting the president and ignoring constitutional duties.

Sen. Carper said he was “disappointed” that Republicans insist on waiting until a new president is sworn in, claiming such a move is unprecedented.

However, according to the New York Times in a Feb. 22 article, the then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued in a 1992 speech on the floor of the Senate that President George Bush should delay filling a Supreme Court vacancy, should one arise, until the presidential election was over.

On Wednesday, Sen. Carper held up Delaware as an example of how bipartisanship can work.

“The idea of allowing a vacancy on any court — much less our highest court — for over a year would never pass muster in Delaware, nor should it in Washington,” Sen. Carper said.

Sen. Coons said even as he studies Chief Judge Garland’s record over the next few weeks, he will be advocating for Republicans to also meet with the nominee in preparation for a potential Judiciary Committee hearing. He expects to make his decision on whether he will support the judge within a month.

“It’s my hope that the weight of that tradition and that experience and the weight of the sort of unprecedented level of obstruction it would represent if none of the Republicans were able to meet with the chief judge, I’m hoping that will persuade Sen. Grassley,” Sen. Coons said.

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