Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, breaking from party leadership on Monday, said the Senate should give a hearing to President Barack Obama’s upcoming pick to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kirk, a moderate Republican facing a tough re-election fight, wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times that his duty is “to either vote in support or opposition to that nominee following a fair and thorough hearing along with a complete and transparent release of all requested information.”
Since Scalia was found dead at a Texas ranch more than a week ago, Kirk kept to himself while other vulnerable GOP senators fell in line behind Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s call to resist movement on a Scalia successor until after the November election. Kirk joins a handful of other Senate Republicans who have resisted calls to hold no hearings at all for a nominee.
Last Monday, Kirk’s presumptive Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, criticized the Senator’s silence. “Sen. Mark Kirk must immediately level with the people of Illinois and let us know whether he supports the Constitution, or if he’ll be a rubber stamp for Mitch McConnell’s obstructionist and unconstitutional gambit,” Duckworth said.
Kirk’s column in the Sun-Times called on Obama not to nominate a “partisan” nominee, but rather “a nominee who can bridge differences, a nominee who finds common ground and a nominee who does not speak or act in the extreme.”
Nowhere in the column was the oft-repeated talking point, originating in McConnell’s statement last weekend, that the “American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.”
Last week, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, told a conservative radio host on Tuesday that Republicans would “fall into the trap of being obstructionist” if they rejected a nominee “sight unseen.” On Wednesday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters, “I do believe that the nominee should get a hearing.”
Tillis and Murkowski said their support for a hearing did not mean they would vote for the nominee. Indeed, Murkowski turned to Twitter to “urge Pres. Obama to follow a tradition embraced by both parties and allow his successor to select the next Supreme Court justice.”
Kirk’s call for hearings and refusal to rule out a confirmation vote is more in line with Maine’s moderate Republican, Sen. Susan Collins.
“Nominees to the Supreme Court warrant in-depth consideration given the importance of their constitutional role and their lifetime tenure. Our role in the Senate is to evaluate the nominee’s temperament, intellect, experience, integrity, and respect for the Constitution and the rule of law,” Collins said in a statement last Sunday.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, will decide whether or not to give Obama’s nominee a hearing. Grassley last week reiterated his intention to wait until after November to consider a nominee.
On Monday, Grassley quoted Vice President Joe Biden from 1992—then as a Democratic senator in Delaware—in remarks against confirming a Republican high court nominee during a presidential election year.
“It is my view that if a Supreme Court justice resigns tomorrow, or within the next several weeks, or resigns at the end of the summer, President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not name a nominee until after the November election is completed,” then-Sen. Biden said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nevada, condemned McConnell’s “no intention of filling this important vacancy” as a “foolish gambit.”
“We’re seeing an unprecedented attempt to hold hostage an entire branch of government,” Reid said Monday.
McConnell steered clear of the controversy in his opening statement from the floor on Monday. He instead paid tribute to Scalia and included a reflection on his time as a Ford administration staffer among three future D.C. Circuit judges.
“I was fortunate as a young man to be invited to staff meetings that featured some of the most influential conservative judicial minds of the time,” McConnell said. “Robert Bork was there. He was the solicitor general. Larry Silberman was there. He was the deputy attorney general. And everyone in the department agreed on two things: one, Antonin Scalia was the funniest lawyer on the staff, and two, he was the brightest.”