Why some conservatives are changing their tune on Obama's SCOTUS pick

With Donald Trump becoming the presumptive nominee Wednesday, some conservatives are pushing Republican senators to appoint Merrick Garland to the US Supreme Court.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, smiles during an awards breakfast for pro bono counsel at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in Washington, earlier this month.

As Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee for president Wednesday, the GOP-led Senate may be thinking twice about refusing Merrick Garland, a spot on the US Supreme Court. 

“Republicans must know that there is absolutely no chance that we will win the White House in 2016 now,” Leon Wolf, author of the conservative blog RedState, wrote Wednesday. “They must also know that we are likely to lose the Senate as well. So the choices, essentially, are to confirm Garland and have another bite at the apple in a decade, or watch as President Clinton nominates someone who is radically more leftist and 10-15 years younger, and we are in no position to stop it.” 

President Obama’s nominated Merrick Garland, currently the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, to be the nation’s 113th Supreme Court justice in March after Justice Antonin Scalia passed away unexpectedly in February. Republican senators have refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Chief Judge Garland, the next step in the process as outlined in the Constitution, because they believe the next Supreme Court judge should be nominated by the winner of November’s presidential election. 

But with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich out of the running, Trump has become presumed nominee and some senators are expected to flip their stance against Garland. 

Republicans find themselves in a deeply uncomfortable situation: they feel compelled to block a highly qualified nominee, offered as a compromise, because they want to let President Trump fill the Supreme Court vacancy,” explains MSNBC’s Steve Benen. “There are quite a few vulnerable GOP incumbents in the Senate right now, and this is a tough pitch for them to make to voters in an election year.”

If the GOP-led Senate continues to stall Garland’s nomination, they face two other options. If Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee, is elected, she could nominate a judge that Republicans dislike more than Garland. 

Or Republican Senators could place their bets on Trump winning the White House. But with this bet comes another caveat: They must also hope that he appoints a nominee with strict conservative ideals. Because Trump is “not a reliable, consistent conservative,” his nominee could be just as distasteful to conservatives as Mrs. Clinton’s, if she were to be elected. 

The Republican’s sticky situation has not been lost on Mr. Obama, who revived his campaign for Garland’s stalled nomination on Tuesday. 

But crucial Republican senators like majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte have yet to issue a statement reversing their previous opposition to Garland. Neither have South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham or Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse – though both have made it clear they will not support Trump as president.

“Garland is not a great choice, but he is not a terrible one, either,” conceded Wolf. “The fact that Merrick Garland still exists as an option right now is a gift that should not be squandered. The calculus has changed – confirm Merrick Garland before it is too late.”

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