Senate Committee pulls trigger: No Supreme Court nomination hearings til 2017

The controlling Republican majority on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday advised Majority Leader Mitch McConnell they will not schedule hearings until a new President is in office.

With the unexpected death on Feb. 13 of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the conservative icon of the high court responsible for the landmark Heller gun rights opinion, Republicans and Democrats drew fierce battle lines on the prospect of filling his spot on the nation’s high court.

While President Obama did not exercise what was sure to be a controversial decision to name a temporary appointment to the bench while Congress was in recess last week and a number of candidates have been speculated, Republicans have made clear that the option of Mr. Obama naming a third justice to the nine-judge panel is not going to happen.

All 11 GOP senators of the Judiciary Committee, led by Chuck Grassley of Iowa and including one past (Lindsey Graham) and one current (Ted Cruz) Republican candidate for the White House in 2016, sent a letter to chamber leaders this week with the firm decision not to allow any hearings on a Presidential nominee to replace Scalia this session.

From the letter:

We intend to exercise the constitutional power granted the Senate under Article II, Section 2 to ensure the American people are not deprived of the opportunity to engage in a full and robust debate over the type of jurist they wish to decide some of the most critical issues of our time. Not since 1932 has the Senate confirmed in a presidential election year a Supreme Court nominee to a vacancy arising in that year. And it is necessary to go even further back — to 1888 — in order to find an election year nominee who was nominated and confirmed under divided government, as we have now.

Accordingly, given the particular circumstances under which this vacancy arises, we wish to inform you of our intention to exercise our constitutional authority to withhold consent on any nominee to the Supreme Court submitted by this President to fill Justice Scalia’s vacancy. Because our decision is based on constitutional principle and born of a necessity to protect the will of the American people, this Committee will not hold hearings on any Supreme Court nominee until after our next President is sworn in on January 20, 2017.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, one of the Democrats on the committee which also includes Sen. Dianne Fienstein, blasted his GOP colleagues for their decision.

“The American people expect the Senate to do its job,” said Schumer on social media. “They are tired of obstruction and my-way-or-the-highway politics.”

Other members took to social media to celebrate the news.