In the face of Republicans’ continued vocal resistance to appointing a Supreme Court justice under the current White House, President Obama announced his nominee Wednesday to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.
His candidate, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland, is well-regarded on both sides of the aisle – 32 Republicans voted in favor of confirming him in his current job, and a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee even floated his name as a possible nominee just last week, calling him a "fine man."
"[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man," Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah told Newsmax Friday. "He probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election. So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants."
Since Mr. Obama’s official announcement, the Utah lawmaker has maintained his stance against going forward with the nomination process, contending that any appointment would be tainted by the polarized climate of the election cycle.
“Adding a Supreme Court nomination to the current polarized climate would serve only to undermine the Court’s independence,” he wrote in an op-ed on TIME.com Tuesday, “and drag the Court into the caustic atmosphere of the 2016 presidential race.”
Hatch followed up, however, saying that he would consider approving Garland's nomination after the general election in November, in a lame duck session before the next president takes office.
"He is a good man, but he shouldn't be brought up in this toxic environment," he told reporters Wednesday.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell echoed this notion on the Senate floor Wednesday, asserting that the party wants to "give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy."
As The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips notes, Republicans up for reelection this year will face pressure from their constituents and potential voters to consider the nominee. GOP incumbents from swing states are particularly vulnerable.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in early March, nearly two in every three Americans say that the Senate should hold hearings on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Among Republicans, 46 percent said yes, but the figure is substantially higher among independents – 62 percent.
Moderate Republicans who aren’t up for reelection also could tip the balance in favor of at least hearing Garland’s nomination. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, for instance, suggested that the Senate must seriously consider any nomination of a Supreme Court justice.
"More than any other appointment upon which the Senate is called to pass judgment,” she said in a statement said after Justice Scalia’s death in February, "nominees to the Supreme Court warrant in-depth consideration given the importance of their constitutional role and their lifetime tenure."
Sen. Thom Tillis, (R) of North Carolina, also has voiced reservations, warning against "[falling] into the trap of being obstructionists.”
Pundits and legal experts both praised him Wednesday as a candidate whose credentials made him difficult to ignore.
Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano called him “the most conservative nominee to the Supreme Court by a Democratic president in the modern era."
"He's not flashy. He doesn't have some academic theory driving his jurisprudence but decides the cases one at a time as they come before him," Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University Washington College of Law told CNN.
It would be "simply impossible," he added, for Republican politicians to oppose Garland based on his merits.