Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed moments after learning of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month that his Republican majority would obstruct any attempt by President Obama to fill his seat — and the vast majority of his GOP colleagues quickly followed suit. But in the past, many of the Republicans who now refuse to even giving a confirmation hearing to Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland voted to confirm him and praised him as an impressive legal mind.
In 1995, Bill Clinton nominated Garland for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The Republican Senate obstructed his nomination — refusing to give him an up or down vote — and Clinton resubmitted the nomination after his 1996 re-election. Garland was confirmed with bipartisan support, 76 to 23 in 1997.
Senate Republicans Won't Hold SCOTUS Confirmation Hearing. They're Holding These Hearings Instead.
At the time, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) attempted to block Garland's nomination, arguing that while he was "well qualified," no one need be confirmed to the vacancy as the court's caseload did not require a full complement of judges.
Here's what Grassley and other Senate Republicans said about Garland at the time:
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
"Merrick B. Garland is highly qualified to sit on the D.C. circuit. His intelligence and his scholarship cannot be questioned... His legal experience is equally impressive... Accordingly, I believe Mr. Garland is a fine nominee. I know him personally, I know of his integrity, I know of his legal ability, I know of his honesty, I know of his acumen, and he belongs on the court. I believe he is not only a fine nominee, but is as good as Republicans can expect from this administration. In fact, I would place him at the top of the list."
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
“I have nothing against the nominee. Mr. Garland seems to be well qualified and would probably make a good judge -- in some other court.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
"He has a high position with the Department of Justice and, by all accounts, does a good job there. There will be a number of judgeship vacancies in the D.C. trial judges. He has been a trial lawyer. He would be a good person to fill one of those. I would feel comfortable supporting him for another judgeship."
Then-Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
"I believe Mr. Garland is well qualified for the court of appeals. He earned degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Law School and clerked for Judge Friendly on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Justice Brennan on the Supreme Court and, since 1993, he has worked for the Department of Justice. So there is no question, he is qualified to serve on the court."
Then-Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC)
“I have no reservations about Mr. Garland's qualifications or character to serve in this capacity. He had an excellent academic record at both Harvard College and Harvard Law School before serving as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. Also, he has served in distinguished positions in private law practice and with the Department of Justice. Moreover, I have no doubt that Mr. Garland is a man of character and integrity."
Then-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT)
“[T]he nominee has the character and is highly qualified for the position."
Though several of those Senators opposed confirming anyone at all to fill that seat, 32 Republicans backed Garland's nomination.
Hatch, along with current Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS), Dan Coats (R-IN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), John McCain (R-AZ), and Pat Roberts (R-KS), voted to confirm him. In recent days, he reiterated his admiration for Garland and suggested him as a good Supreme Court pick.
Grassley, who now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, once railed against slowness in judicial confirmations but has said he will not allow any confirmation hearings until the next presidential administration. Hatch and Sessions serve on the committee and signed a letter in support of the obstruction.