U.S. President Barack Obama (L) stands with Judge Merrick B. Garland, while nominating him to the US Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden at the White House, March 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. Garland currently serves as the chief judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and if confirmed by the US Senate, would replace Antonin Scalia who died suddenly last month. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Photo: Chip Somodevilla
Photo: Chip Somodevilla

Under GOP pressure, senators withdraw support for Supreme Court confirmation hearings

Two Senate Republicans who supported holding hearings on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee have reversed their positions under apparent pressure from GOP leaders, leaving only two of their Republican colleagues in support of hearings.

The reversals shored up push back from the GOP, which has argued the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February should remain open until the next president is chosen. Critics have framed Republicans' reluctance to hold hearings as a dereliction of duty.

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In a statement sent to several news organizations Friday, an aide for Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said the senator examined Judge Merrick Garland's record and “didn't need hearings to conclude that the nominee's judicial philosophy, disregard for Second Amendment Rights and sympathy for federal government bureaucracy make Garland unacceptable to serve on the Supreme Court.”

The reversal, first reported by the conservative National Review, came just one week after Moran said he opposed the nominee but supported hearings.

“I believe I have a duty to ask tough questions and demand answers,” he said in a statement on March 25. “I am certain a thorough investigation would expose Judge Garland's record and judicial philosophy and disqualify him in the eyes of Kansans and Americans.”

The shift came after a conversation with Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who has said he will not hold hearings on Garland's nomination.

“Sen. Moran called me about the Supreme Court vacancy,” Grassley said in a statement released to CNN Friday. “I'm confident that he's committed to ensuring the American people have an opportunity to make their voices heard during this pivotal election and that the Senate should consider the nominee submitted by the next president.”

At a town hall in Cimarron, Kansas, last month, Moran said a nomination hearing should go forward despite his opposition to Garland's record.

“I can't imagine the president has or will nominate somebody that meets my criteria, but I have to do my job,” he said, according to The Garden City Telegram. “I think the process out to go forward. … I would rather have you complaining to me that I voted wrong on nominating somebody than saying I'm not doing my job.”

In a statement released to the New York Times, a spokeswoman for Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she withdrew her support of hearings as well.

“Sen. Murkowski respects the decision of the chair and members of the Judiciary Committee not to hold hearings on the nominee,” spokeswoman Karina Petersen said.

In February, before Obama announced Garland's nomination, Murkowski told reporters she believed “the nominee should get a hearing,” Alaska Dispatch News reported.

“That doesn't necessarily mean that that ends up in a vote,” she said. “The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether or not this individual, based on their record … should be named to the highest court in the land.”

The reversals mean only two Republican senators – Susan Collins, of Maine, and Mark Kirk, of Illinois – now support holding hearings for Garland.

Obama nominated Garland to the Supreme Court on March 16. He is currently chief judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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