Republican governor rules himself out for Supreme Court seat

Nevada’s Sandoval asks not to be considered as Democrats tell Republicans: ‘Do your job!’

Democrats have called on Republicans to do their job and hold hearings to consider US president Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The demand comes as one possible compromise contender for the job, a Republican governor, ruled himself out.

The Democrats want to end a stand-off between Mr Obama and Republicans on Capitol Hill who are intent on blocking the process to vet and confirm Mr Obama’s nominee to America’s highest court.

Nevada's moderate Republican governor Brian Sandoval (right), the state's first Hispanic federal judge whose name was floated as a potential nominee on Wednesday, said yesterday that he had told the White House and party leaders in Congress that he did not wish to be considered.

Mr Sandoval being mentioned as a potential successor to Mr Scalia, who died this month, had led to liberal concerns being raised, including from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

"I know the governor has done some good things but I sure hope the president chooses a true progressive who will stand up for the values and the interests of the people of this country," she said at a campaign event in South Carolina which holds the next Democratic primary on Saturday.

Republican senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has said his party, which controls the upper house of Congress with 54 of its 100 seats, is opposed to confirmation hearings or a vote on Mr Obama’s choices, preferring the judge to be chosen by the next president in 2017

The opposition would leave the pivotal justice, who could tip the balance of power in the court to its liberal bloc, vacant for almost a year.

Constitution

At a press conference at the US Capitol yesterday, Vermont senator

Pat Leahy

held up a pocket American constitution as he stood behind a sign that read: “America Says to

Senate

Republicans: Do Your Job.”

Republicans had sworn a “solemn oath before God” said Mr Leahy, to uphold the constitution and fill empty Supreme Court seats.

Mr Leahy, the most senior Democrat on the Senate’s judiciary committee that vets new justices, said the refusal of Republicans to hold even a hearing on Mr Obama’s nominee, who died on February 13th, was unprecedented.

“Rank partisanship should not trump how we have always treated nominees,” Mr Leahy, the longest serving member of the US Senate, said.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California noted that 14 of the 112 court justices appointed in US history were confirmed in the final year of a presidential term and that a Democrat-led Senate approved district court judges in the final months of George W Bush's presidency.

“Republicans should look at some of those precedents before they decide not to do their jobs,” she said.

Fraught climate

Mr Scalia’s death has injected new tensions into an already fraught political climate with a bitterly fought Republican presidential campaign, putting the future of the Supreme Court into play in November’s elections along with the control of the White House and the US Senate.

Mr McConnell has refused to cave to pressure from Mr Obama, siding with Republican presidential candidates who have called for a vote to be delayed until 2017.

Mr Obama has urged Republicans to rise above partisanship around the nomination, saying that it would be difficult for Mr McConnell to explain his opposition without it looking like he was being motivated by politics.

“I recognise the politics are hard for them because the easier thing to do is to give in to the most extreme voices within the party and stand pat and do nothing,” Mr Obama said on Wednesday.

“But that’s not our job. Our job is to fulfil our constitutional duties.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent

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