7 GOP senators once moved in favor of man Obama nominated

Published 10:28 am Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Exasperated by a long-running fight over judicial nominees, a Republican senator pleaded with his colleagues to confirm Merrick Garland to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, often considered the second most important court in the nation.

“Playing politics with judges is unfair, and I am sick of it,” Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said prior to the vote on March 19, 1997.

Fast forward 19 years and Garland is President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, ensnared in a high-stakes, election-year fight over a vacancy that Republicans insist should be filled by the next president. No confirmation hearings and no votes this year, says the GOP in its blanket argument that the American people must have a say in November elections before a judge is chosen.

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Republicans who once praised Garland — and voted for him — say it’s not the person, it’s the principle.

“He may very well be a very good nominee, I voted for him earlier,” said Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas. “But it’s not about the nominee, it’s about the process.”

In fact, seven current Republican senators voted in 1997 to confirm Garland, a former Justice Department attorney who coordinated the prosecution in the Oklahoma City bombing case and was tapped by President Bill Clinton for the appeals court. The nomination had been caught up in an extended, nearly two-year dispute over the size of the lower court until Hatch, then the powerful chairman of the Judiciary Committee, negotiated to secure a vote.