WASHINGTON – Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican and former federal judge, is being considered by President Barack Obama for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, a source close to the process said on Wednesday, as Obama sought to overcome Senate Republican resistance to any nominee and warned the top court’s credibility is on the line.
The source, who asked not to be identified, said Sandoval met on Monday in the U.S. Capitol with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, at which time Reid asked the governor whether he would be interested in being considered for the high court job.
“He said he was interested,” the source said of Sandoval, adding that “a number of people are being checked out” for the job.
An intense political fight has erupted since the Feb. 13 death of long-serving conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans are maneuvering to foil Obama’s ability to choose a replacement who could tilt the court to the left for the first time in decades. The Republican-dominated Senate must confirm any high court nominee.
Sandoval, 52, who is of Mexican heritage and was elected governor in 2010, was in Washington for a meeting of the National Governors’ Association. He spent about 30 minutes with Reid in the Democratic leader’s office. The two also had talked by telephone last week, the source said.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday that the Senate will not hold hearings or vote on any Supreme Court nominee until after the next president takes office in January.
Obama vowed on Wednesday to move ahead with a nominee and said Republicans would risk public ire if they blocked a qualified candidate for political motives, as well as diminishing the credibility of the high court.
Obama said he expected the Senate Judiciary Committee to extend his nominee the courtesy of a hearing and then vote on whether he or she is qualified.
“In the meantime, the American people are going to have the ability to gauge whether the person I’ve nominated is well within the mainstream, is a good jurist, is somebody who’s worthy to sit on the Supreme Court,” Obama told reporters during a meeting in the Oval Office.
“I think it will be very difficult for Mr. McConnell to explain how, if the public concludes that this person’s very well qualified, that the Senate should stand in the way simply for political reasons.”
The president said he understood the political predicament Republicans faced and said he had expressed sympathy in calls to their leaders. He said they were sheepish in their arguments that a nominee should not be confirmed until next year and predicted their posture would change.
“I think the situation may evolve over time. I don’t expect Mitch McConnell to say that is the case today,” he said.
Obama, who was meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, rarely takes questions from reporters in the Oval Office. But he was ready on Wednesday and seemed to relish striking down Republican arguments against his future nominee.
Earlier on Wednesday, in a post on the independent SCOTUSblog.com website, Obama listed his criteria for a nominee, including “an independent mind, rigorous intellect, impeccable credentials and a record of excellence and integrity.”
In an apparent nod to conservatives who decry “activist judges,” Obama said his appointee “will be someone who recognizes the limits of the judiciary’s role; who understands that a judge’s job is to interpret the law, not make the law.”
Liberals vowed to pressure Senate Republicans into considering an Obama nomination this year, with several groups banding together to deliver to the Senate boxes of what they said contained 1.3 million signatures from citizens demanding that a confirmation process go forward after the president announces his pick.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said the petitions being delivered were “just the beginning of the public rising up.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said Republicans “are giving a middle finger to the American people and they are giving a middle finger to this president. The American people elected Barack Obama for four years and they knew what they were doing.”
The U.S. presidential election is set for Nov. 8 and Republicans want the next president to fill Scalia’s vacancy, hoping a Republican will be elected.
Scalia’s death left the shorthanded court with four liberals and four conservatives, with Obama’s nominee positioned to change the court’s ideological balance.
Obama already has appointed two Supreme Court justices during his seven years as president. The Senate confirmed his prior two nominees — Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010 — but the chamber was controlled by Obama’s fellow Democrats at the time.
Obama accused Senate Republicans on Wednesday of putting the Supreme Court’s credibility at risk if they keep their vow to not consider or vote on his nominee to replace the late Justice Scalia. He promised to nominate a candidate anyway in the next few weeks.
“I’m going to do my job,” Obama said.
Obama acknowledged that Republicans are under “enormous pressure from their base” to oppose his nominee. But he said if they defy the Constitution by snubbing his nominee, the ability of any future president to pick judges will further erode.
“At that point, not only are you going to see more and more vacancies and the court system break down, but the credibility of the Court begins to diminish because it’s viewed simply as an extension of our politics,” Obama said after a White House meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
Filling the vacancy left by Scalia’s unexpected death on Feb. 13 is crucial because the Supreme Court now has a 4-4 ideological split between justices who are usually conservative and its liberal wing. The battle has invigorated both sides’ interest groups and voters who focus on abortion, immigration and other issues before the court.
Senate Republicans want to wait on a Supreme Court pick until Obama leaves office in January. Majority Leader McConnell on Tuesday said his 54-member Republican caucus was united against taking any step in the Senate’s “advise and consent” process. The Judiciary Committee won’t hold confirmation hearings, he said. The committee and the full Senate will not vote.
Obama and his team are hoping to select a well-regarded candidate Republicans would be hard-pressed to oppose, then build a public campaign of support for him or her while increasing political pressure on Republicans for standing in the way of fair consideration.
Obama said he hoped Judiciary Committee members would “recognize that it is their job to give this person a hearing.”
But Republicans showed no signs of backing down. A few Republicans, including McConnell, have said they would not even meet with the nominee when that person makes introductions on Capitol Hill.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in a statement Wednesday called Republicans’ refusal to consider any appointee “shameful and indefensible.” She said it is offensive to Obama and the American people.
In his blog post earlier Wednesday on the legal site SCOTUSblog, Obama tried to calm conservative concerns that he would choose a liberal who would upend the nine-member court’s balance.
“I seek judges who approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda, but rather a commitment to impartial justice, a respect for precedent, and a determination to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand,” Obama said.
Yet in a nod to Democrats’ interests, Obama also said the law isn’t clear in all cases that reach the high court. “There will be cases in which a judge’s analysis necessarily will be shaped by his or her own perspective, ethics, and judgment,” he wrote.
Obama on Wednesday insisted he will not tap someone looking to legislate from the bench.
Obama’s bid to nominate a successor to Scalia has ran into the sand in Congress, where Republicans have already vowed to block his choice.
Vowing to consult “people across the political spectrum” in making his selection, Obama said he would pick someone who must see that “justice is not about abstract legal theory” but has an impact on Americans’ lives.
is comments are likely to be seen as a hint that he may pick a centrist to replace Scalia.
Obama later repeated his call that the Senate do its job in remarks to reporters in the Oval Office.
“The Constitution says that I nominate candidates for the Supreme Court when there’s a vacancy, and that the Senate exercises its constitutional role in advise and consent. I’m going to do my job.”
Addressing McConnell directly, Obama said he “and all the members of the Senate are going to make a decision about how do they fulfill their constitutional responsibilities.”
“I recognize the politics are hard for them, because the easier thing to do is to give in to the most extreme voices within their party and stand pat and do nothing. But that’s not our job. Our job is to fulfill our constitutional duties.”