U.S. Senate Democrats sought to highlight the qualifications of President Barack Obama’s stymied Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, in a mock hearing that drew scorn from Republicans and conservative groups.
For more than an hour Wednesday, high-profile colleagues and friends of the nominee extolled Garland’s virtues, in unofficial testimony before Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee.
“Merrick is calm under pressure,” said former U.S. Attorney Donna Bucella, who worked with Garland to investigate the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. “And he’s always 25 steps ahead of everybody else.”
Under normal circumstances, Garland himself would testify at confirmation hearings by the full Senate committee. But the chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, has refused to consider his nomination, joining other Republicans who insist that the Supreme Court vacancy be filled by Obama’s successor next year.
For more than two months, Democrats have protested and pressured Republicans to relent – to no avail. Wednesday’s mock event drew plenty of media coverage, but even its organizers admitted that it lacked the impact of a genuine confirmation hearing.
“This hearing is no substitute for the real thing,” lamented Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Republicans scoffed at the event before it began.
“It seems the more we hear from Democrats about the Supreme Court, the more we are reminded of how reasonable and common sense the Republican position is today,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Meanwhile, in a statement, the conservative group Concerned Women for America said, “It’s sort of sad to see what Senate Democrats have been reduced to … it should be called a ‘mockery’ hearing.”
But the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, insisted there is value in publicizing Garland’s qualifications and strengths, given that he has had to remain silent in the face of attacks by right-wing groups opposed to his nomination.
“I’ve known him [Garland] for a very long time,” Leahy said. “I get frustrated when I hear lobbying groups lobbing attacks against him. Of course, he can’t respond to those. If he had a hearing, he could … swat them down.”
Among those speaking on Garland’s behalf was former federal judge Timothy Lewis, who was nominated by President George H. W. Bush in the early 1990s and confirmed by a Democratic-controlled Senate. Lewis bemoaned the hyper-partisanship surrounding judicial confirmations.
“There was a culture of bipartisanship that is severely lacking today,” Lewis said. “The United States Supreme Court should never be viewed as a political arm, an ideological arm, of any political party … I believe the Supreme Court must remain above the fray, because it is a symbol of our greatest aspirations as a society.”
The Supreme Court has operated with eight justices since the death of arch conservative Antonin Scalia in February.