WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Monday he believes the Senate has a constitutional obligation to vote on a president’s nomination to the Supreme Court, staking out a position at odds with Republicans and some legal scholars.
Obama made the claim in an online video interview about his stalled nomination of U.S. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland. Asked if he thought the Constitution’s language about “advice and consent” meant the Senate had an obligation to hold a vote, Obama told BuzzFeed News: “I do.”
The Constitution says the president “shall” appoint judges to the Supreme Court “with the advice and consent of the Senate.” Senate Republicans have maintained they are fulfilling their constitutional duty by choosing not to consider Garland at all.
The GOP has pointed out that in 2005, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid argued that the Constitution doesn’t say the Senate has a duty to vote on presidential nominees.
Months of efforts by the White House to build up political pressure on Republicans to relent and hold a vote have so far been ineffective. Although a number of Republicans have met with Garland and a few have expressed openness to hearings, GOP leadership has stood firm behind their insistence that the next president should get to choose a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Obama also tried to use Donald Trump’s ascent as the presumptive GOP presidential nominee as another reason why a Scalia replacement shouldn’t wait. With many Republicans openly questioning Trump’s temperament and principles, Democrats have said it’s too risky to let Trump pick the next justice if he’s elected in November.
“Precisely because this election year has been so crazy, because we have a number of Republicans say that they’re concerned about their nominee, it shows why you can’t politicize a Supreme Court vacancy,” Obama said.
In the interview, Obama said erroneously that Garland had been “confirmed unanimously” by the Senate to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Garland was confirmed on a vote of 76-23 in 1997.
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.