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Former Bar Association Leaders Slam GOP on Garland

But at breakfast, Grassley holds firm on vow not to hold hearing

Supreme Court justice nominee Merrick Garland, left, met with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., late last month. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Supreme Court justice nominee Merrick Garland, left, met with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., late last month. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Three former American Bar Association presidents Tuesday accused Senate Republicans of shirking their constitutional duty by not considering Supreme Court hopeful Merrick Garland’s nomination even as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee reiterated the GOP has no plans to take up the jurist’s candidacy.  

On a White House-organized call, Dennis Archer, who led the legal organization in 2003 and 2004, warned Democratic grassroots groups could soon begin registering voters to pressure holdout senators to act. William Neukom, the ABA president in 2007 and 2008, offered a harsher assessment, calling the blockade “a real dereliction.”  

“How dare one branch under-resource another branch and keep it from doing its job,” Neukom said, noting the high court’s docket is “loaded with issues that [will] affect a wide swath of individuals.” He accused Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, of being motivated by “raw political reasons.”  

Martha Barnett, who headed the ABA in 2000 and 2001, said the Senate has a “constitutional obligation” to take up Garland’s nomination.  

​Archer noted McConnell’s calls late last year for Republicans and Democrats to work together in the run-up to the November elections, calling Garland’s nomination “a perfect example” of an issue on which the parties should agree.  

The Constitution states that the Senate has an advise-and-consent role over high court nominations, and Neukom declared there is “no ambiguity in the Constitution.”  

Later, he and the others acknowledged the GOP’s stance merely opposes “the spirit” of the Constitution rather than its legal mandates.  

The ABA counts a membership of about 400,000 lawyers and law students.  

Earlier Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley , R-Iowa, made clear after a closed-door breakfast meeting with Garland that his party is not backing down.  

Grassley and Garland met out of sight in the Senate Dining Room, away from the media stakeout in the halls of the Capitol, and with no sign Grassley would budge from his decision not to hold confirmation hearings.  

Grassley had already said there would be no customary photo opportunity but later posted a picture of himself with Garland on his Instagram account.  

“Had pleasant bfast w Judge Garland this morning,” Grassley posted on his Instagram photo. “Explained why the Senate won’t be moving fwd w his nomination. Next prez will decide after the ppl have a voice.”  

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz declined to comment on the breakfast meeting, held just off the Senate chamber, during the call with reporters. But he did reiterate the Obama administration’s call for McConnell and Grassley to give Garland the same kind of consideration that other high court candidates have received.  

Garland, currently the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has been having “thoughtful conversations” with the Republican senators he has thus far met with behind closed doors, Schultz said, adding the White House believes those lawmakers’ “probing questions” should also be heard by their constituents.  

Garland also met Tuesday with Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and was slated to meet with Patrick J. Toomey , who faces a tough re-election campaign in Pennsylvania, later in the day.  

As the former ABA presidents made their case, a major business lobby argued Garland’s ascension to the country’s top court could hurt the economy.  

The National Federation of Independent Business issued a report that it said should “shatter [Garland’s] supporters’ claim that he’s a down-the-middle moderate .”  

“He is quantifiably biased in favor of regulatory agencies and against private sector businesses,” NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan said in a statement. “His record speaks for itself and elevating him to the Supreme Court would put small business and the economy at great risk.”  

Garland has ruled in favor of federal departments and agencies in 77 percent of cases he has heard involving them, according to NFIB. The organization’s analysis also shows he has ruled against business entities in 90 percent of applicable cases.  

What’s more, “in labor cases, Garland agreed with federal agencies 79 percent of the time,” the business group said in a summary of its report. “Within that category, businesses lost 95 percent of those cases. Labor unions, in contrast, have an unbroken winning streak with Garland. They’ve won every single time.”  

“His instinct is to rule in favor of the agencies except when they’re being challenged by environmental activists for not doing enough,” Duggan said. “In 20 years, he has never once agreed with a private business in an environmental case. That’s very troubling.”  

A White House spokeswoman declined to respond to the NFIB report.  

Todd Ruger contributed to this report.

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