Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona has a message for his fellow Republicans. In an interview with Politico, Flake said that if Hillary Clinton wins the election next month, Senate Republicans should stop stonewalling and instead move quickly to hold hearings and a vote on Merrick Garland, the languishing Supreme Court nominee put forward by President Barack Obama back in March. “If Hillary Clinton is president-elect then we should move forward with hearings in the lame duck,” Flake said. “That’s what I’m encouraging my colleagues to do.”
What explains Flake’s thinking? In the words of Politico, “the political calculus is straightforward: Better to deal with Garland now and avoid swallowing a more liberal nominee from Hillary Clinton.”
But not every Republican is on the same page as Flake. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, for example, believes that Garland will be just as left-wing as any nominee that Clinton might offer. “I don’t believe there would be a real substantive distinction, a real noticeable difference between the voting pattern of a justice who would be appointed by a President Hillary Clinton…and Merrick Garland,” Lee recently said.
Meanwhile, over in the House of Representatives, Republican Congressman Justin Amash disagrees with all of the above. According to Amash, the Senate should reject Garland right now because Garland is a lousy nominee in his own right—plus, Garland may well be worse than anybody put forward by Hillary Clinton. “Odds are the next president will pick someone less extreme than the anti-libertarian Garland,” Amash wrote last night on Twitter. Amash then elaborated on the point: “Garland is ‘moderate’ only from the view of political elites. His record is anti-civil liberties and pro-unchecked executive powers.”
Amash is correct about Garland’s record, which is replete with judicial deference to both law enforcement agencies and to the executive branch.
All of which raises an interesting question. If the Senate does hold hearings on the Garland nomination, how many Senate Republicans will be forced to admit that they approve of Garland’s judicial passivity in these important areas of the law? Like it or not, the Senate is not exactly packed to the gills with libertarian-minded lawmakers in the vein of Justin Amash (or Rand Paul). What will traditional conservatives have to say about Garland’s record on these matters? What about the so-called law and order crowd? Remember, from the standpoint of a certain type of legal conservatism, the courts should be deferential towards the actions of police and prosecutors, or should be deferential towards the “inherent” powers of the presidency. Perhaps Garland will pick up more than a few votes from those segments of the Senate GOP.
If nothing else, Senate confirmation hearings on Merrrick Garland would be a positive development because they might force conservative lawmakers to publicly air their differences on these crucial legal questions.