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Obama: GOP is jeopardizing judicial integrity

DARLENE SUPERVILLE | 4/18/2016, 12:18 p.m.
President Barack Obama accused Senate Republicans on April 7 of jeopardizing the “integrity of the judicial branch” by refusing to ...
President Barack Obama responds to questions at the University of Chicago Law School, where he taught constitutional law for over a decade in Chicago, April 7. Obama discussed his nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland, and continued to call on the Senate to give him a fair hearing and an up or down vote. Nam Y. Huh

CHICAGO (AP) – President Barack Obama accused Senate Republicans on April 7 of jeopardizing the “integrity of the judicial branch” by refusing to consider his “extraordinary” nominee to the Supreme Court.

Holding court before Chicago law students, Obama argued that the treatment of judge Merrick Garland would cause the public to lose confidence in the ability of courts at all levels of government to fairly judge cases and resolve controversies.

“Our democracy can’t afford that,” Obama said.

The president introduced Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, three weeks ago at the White House, but the nomination had stalled long before that sunny March day in the Rose Garden.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had announced hours after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February that the Senate would not hold hearings or vote on any nomination Obama sent to Capitol Hill in an election year.

Obama said that stance is jeopardizing democracy by leading to potential 4-4 ties on cases from the Supreme Court. He also said there potentially are two terms in which the high court will have to issue rulings without a tie-breaking justice.

Obama described that scenario as unprecedented and said the courts have become a troubling extension of America’s broken politics.

“That erodes the institutional integrity of the judicial branch,” Obama told about 300 students, faculty and judges at the University of Chicago Law School, where he taught constitutional law for more than a decade. “At that point, people lose confidence in the ability of the courts to fairly adjudicate cases and controversies and our democracy can’t afford that.”

On the Senate floor April 1, McConnell said Obama would “be telling supporters a politically convenient fairy tale” by arguing that the Constitution requires a Senate vote on his nominee.

Garland has been meeting with Democratic and Republican senators on Capitol Hill, but there is no indication the sessions are influencing the political calculus of the Senate Republican leadership.

He met April 7 with four Democrats: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Chris Coons of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Blumenthal, after his meeting, urged more Republicans to meet with Garland.

“He will be a unifying force if confirmed,” Blumenthal said.

Most GOP senators, including McConnell, have said they will not meet with Garland, though Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa invited the judge to meet over breakfast Tuesday. Garland will meet with other Republicans next week, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona, the White House said. And South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s office said April 7 that he was willing to meet with the nominee.

Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, a Republican regarded as one of the most vulnerable incumbents seeking re-election in November, was the first GOP senator to meet with Garland. Kirk is Garland’s home-state senator and one of a few Republicans to call for hearings on his nomination.