The long-serving Senator from Iowa set a record yesterday, though one many won’t be happy about. Tuesday marked 125 days since President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, with Senator Chuck Grassley still refusing to hold a hearing for him. The last time it took 125 days for the Senate to take action on a nominee was in 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis.
There’s been a lot of important milestones in this Supreme Court process, but yesterday’s certainly outdid them all. Senator Grassley will now be forever known as the worst obstructionist in all of American history on the courts process. And with no end in sight to the Republicans’ Supreme Court blockade, it’s likely that record will grow and possibly double until a resolution is reached.
It’s interesting to look back at that last incredibly long confirmation battle. Brandeis was blocked by Senate Republicans 100 years ago for his outspoken views on the economy – he was in fact one of the leading populist voices of the day. Brandeis believed the big banks needed to broken up, not just regulated, in order to stave off the formation of monopolies. He was essentially the Bernie Sanders of his time, so you can imagine the pushback his nomination to the Supreme Court would generate (actually, if you have a few minutes, read up on Louis Brandeis – he’s a fascinating American political figure not often remembered).
That presents an interesting contrast to the situation of today: Garland was selected precisely because he lacked any major ideological leanings. Obama put him forward for his record of being a fair, thoughtful jurist, typically the kind of nominee that both political parties can get behind.
Which is what makes Grassley’s opposition to holding hearings all the more noteworthy. It’s not about the ideology or resume of the actual nominee. It’s solely about which party the president nominating him belongs to. And the refusal to hold a hearing reflects that – what Republicans likely truly fear is a public examination of Garland, which would simply reinforce how qualified he is to serve.
That also differs from past nomination battles. While 125 days sets the record for the longest time the Senate has refused to take action on a nominee, Supreme Court seats have actually gone vacant for even longer before. In 1844 the Whig Party’s outright hatred of President John Tyler made it impossible for him to fill a vacancy. His nominees were rejected by votes of the Senate or withdrawn by the Tyler. President James Polk’s first nominee after Tyler was rejected by the Senate as well. There have been several times in American history where a Supreme Court seat stayed open for hundreds of days – but the Senate actually acted and took a vote in nearly all of those cases.
Chuck Grassley will be remembered for a lot after his storied career comes to an end, whether it be this year in his campaign against Patty Judge or a later retirement. An Iowa institution, holding public office since 1959, he’s been elected to six terms in the U.S. Senate. He helped move the country through the farm crisis, cut trillions of dollars in taxes as the previous chair of the Finance Committee and did it all while visiting 99 counties every year and maintaining a down-to-earth persona.
But he’ll also be remembered for one of the most partisan Supreme Court nomination battles in all of history, and the longest delay ever. Every time in the future a president’s nominee starts to run into pushback from the Senate, Grassley’s role in Garland’s process will be mentioned. That’s now a central part of his legacy too.
by Pat Rynard