Sen. Jon Tester met Thursday with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, President Obama’s choice to fill the seat left vacant by Antonin Scalia’s death in February. And although Montana’s Democratic senator stopped short of fully backing the jurist’s ascension to the high court, he took aim at Senate Republicans entrenched in their unwillingness to even consider a nomination hearing.
The stalled process of filling a Supreme Court seat has taken a turn into uncharted political territory as Senate Republican leaders have vowed for nearly two months that Garland, a relatively uncontroversial name, will receive neither a hearing nor a vote.
Some Republicans have refused to meet with Garland, which Tester said was a “dereliction of duty,” and vow to continue the staring contest with the Obama administration until a new president is elected.
Tester took aim at the Republican Party, accusing its leaders of trying to send the U.S. Supreme Court into the same tailspin of dysfunction he says they’ve wreaked on the U.S. Senate.
“Refusing to meet with Judge Garland is as dangerous as it is unprecedented,” Tester said. “Considering a Supreme Court nominee is not a choice, it’s a Constitutional responsibility.”
In March, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said the American people should have the opportunity to elect a new president before a new Supreme Court justice is seated.
“In the last few months of Obama’s term, Montanans do not want to see another lifetime appointed liberal, that will decide the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court for the next generation,” according to a statement from Daines’ office Friday.
Tester countered that Obama’s nominee for the high court has the right to a hearing and a vote.
Following a one-on-one meeting with Garland Thursday morning, Tester told reporters during a conference call that he vetted the D.C. circuit court judge for about 45 minutes, quizzing him about issues important to Montanans – issues like the Second Amendment rights, civil liberties and the rising influence of money in politics.
Although Tester reserved a full endorsement of the judge – the senator would like to review a 141-page questionnaire that Garland disseminated to lawmakers, which includes 2,000 pages of appendices – he said there is no excuse for GOP lawmakers’ turning a constitutional obligation into “election-year politicking.”
“I’m not done vetting Judge Garland,” Tester said. “But the meeting I had with Garland is a meeting every senator should have. It’s required of us. The court should not be as dysfunctional as the Senate.”
During the meeting, Tester said he plied Garland about his experience prosecuting high-profile cases including Montana’s Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. He also lauded Garland’s stance on privacy in communications, which he said aligned with Montana values.
Tester said he hadn’t seen signs of Senate Republicans weakening in their resolve to not consider Garland’s nomination.
Asked whether Republicans might be stalling to see whether Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election, and then cave on a Garland nomination in the lame-duck session out of fear of a more liberal nomination, Tester said the party has already wasted too much time.
Tester recently launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #DoYourJob to highlight the number of Montanans questioning the Senate’s inaction on the nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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