Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is highly qualified to sit on the Supreme Court; make no mistake about that. Heck, even Bill Clinton’s arch-nemesis, Ken Starr, the former Whitewater special prosecutor, likes him. Unfortunately for Garland and the rest of us, the country is about to find out what life is like when Senate Republicans play by the very rules laid down in June 1992 by Joe Biden and the Democrats. Then, as now, government was divided.
They ran Congress, but George H.W. Bush was president, and in case anyone needs to be reminded, a much younger Senator Biden warned Bush that he should not bother nominating anyone to the Supreme Court until the upcoming November elections were over and done. Biden also signaled that if Bush had the temerity to send a name up to Capitol Hill, the nomination would languish in committee like an unopened box of cereal left to be forgotten in a cupboard.
That way, if Bush won a second term, which he did not, Biden & Co. might just get to Bush’s pick by Christmas. If they felt like it. But, on the other hand, if the Democrats captured the White House, Bush’s nominee would simply be a footnote to history, and a newly elected President Clinton would make the call.
As a practical matter, Biden’s posturing shed more heat than light as no seat became vacant. Was Biden being purely political? You betcha. But what else is new? Biden was the same guy who in 1987 helped block Robert Bork, then a judge on the D.C. Circuit – just like Garland – from making it to the Supreme Court.
On May 19, 2005, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) said: "The duties of the Senate are set forth in the U.S. Constitution. Nowhere in that document does it say the Senate has a duty to give Presidential nominees a vote. It says appointments shall be made with the advice and consent of the Senate. That is very different than saying every nominee receives a vote."