CARBONDALE – Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, discussed the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court during a visit to the Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Law recently.
“It has been 48 days since Chief Judge Merrick Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court and 80 days since a vacancy on the court arose with the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia," Durbin told the audience at SIU. “It is the Senate’s constitutional obligation to provide advice and consent when the president submits a Supreme Court nomination, but the Republican-controlled Senate is refusing to do its job. There is no precedent for this type of obstruction of a Supreme Court nominee.”
Shortly after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's passing on Feb. 13, 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that the Senate would not consider any nominee presented by President Barack Obama.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell's statement said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
In March, 43 current and former deans of law schools, including SIU School of Law's Dean Cynthia Fountaine, sent a letter to the Senate urging the members to fulfill their constitutional duties.
"Split 4-4 decisions would prevent the Supreme Court from fulfilling its role as final arbiter of federal law, permitting federal law to have different meanings in different parts of the country," the deans said. "Such conflict and ambiguity jeopardize respect for the rule of law."
In spite of McConnell and other Senate Republicans' support for a nearly year-long delay in nominating a new Supreme Court Justice, Obama nominated Garland on March 16. Garland has served as the chief judge of the D.C Circuit Court Chief Judge for three years. Previously, he served on the D.C. appellate court. Former President Bill Clinton nominated Garland to the bench in 1997.
Durbin and other members of the Senate had the opportunity to meet with Garland in one-on-one meetings in March.
"Judge Garland has spent decades in public service as a federal prosecutor and as a federal judge," Durbin said in his speech at SIU. "He has done his job, and done it extraordinarily well. He, and the American people, deserve a Senate that will do its job too."
Although Senate Republicans backed McConnell's statement, the Senate Judiciary Committee has never denied a nominee hearing in its century of existence, he said.
"With a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican President Ronald Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy and sent his name to a Democratic-controlled United States Senate, which gave him a unanimous vote and put him on the court in the last year of Ronald Reagan's presidency," Durbin said,
Durbin's continuing calls for a hearing and vote on Garland's nomination has garnered support from a few Republicans, including Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, who is locked in a tough re-election battle against Democrat Tammy Duckworth.
Others who have broken ranks and agreed to at least meet with Garland include Sens.Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).
"We were honored to have Senator Durbin speak to students and faculty here at SIU last week," Fountaine told the Record. "The work of the Supreme Court is too critical to the effective functioning of our democracy to be unnecessarily delayed."
Durbin sits on the Senate Judiciary, Appropriations and Rules Committee. He has spent 18 years on the Senate Judiciary Committee and participated in the consideration of four current Supreme Court justices' nominations. He also sits on the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, which has jurisdiction over constitutional issues. He is the Ranking Member of that committee.