WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court selection, failed to persuade Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley during a private meeting on Tuesday to hold confirmation hearings on his nomination.
“As he indicated last week, Grassley explained why the Senate won’t be moving forward during this hyper-partisan election year,” Grassley’s office said in a statement that described the meeting as “cordial and pleasant.”
The two men met for 70 minutes in the Senate dining room. The Iowa Republican two decades ago also sought to block Garland’s nomination to the federal appeals court on which he currently serves as chief judge.
Garland later met privately with Lisa Murkowski, one of the dwindling number of moderate Senate Republicans. Her office issued a statement that also seemed to close the door on confirming Garland.
Garland was nominated by Obama, a Democrat, on March 16 to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Republicans who control the Senate are refusing to advance the nomination, prompting Democrats to accuse them of obstructionism and of ignoring their constitutional obligations.
Republicans insist that the next president, to be elected on Nov. 8 and take office Jan. 20, fill the vacancy, hoping a Republican will win the White House and choose a conservative rather than the centrist Garland.
Democrats applauded those Republicans willing to meet with Garland but said public hearings are essential.
“Dark-money groups (conservative contributors) are trying to do the Republicans’ dirty work and sully Judge Garland’s name while Republican senators prevent Judge Garland from explaining his views to the public,” New York Senator Chuck Schumer told reporters. “That is cowardly, it’s backward and it is wrong.”
The White House released a letter written by 15 former presidents of the American Bar Association to Senate leaders urging a timely hearing and a vote on Garland’s confirmation.
“The stated refusal to fill the ninth seat of the Supreme Court injects a degree of politics into the judicial branch that materially hampers the effective operation of our nation’s highest court and the lower courts over which it presides,” the former ABA leaders stated.
The conservative Tea Party Patriots and Judicial Crisis Network praised Grassley for holding firm against hearings.
In a Reuters-Ipsos poll that included 900 registered Democrats and 788 registered Republicans conducted April 5-12, 55 percent said the Senate should hold confirmation hearings.
The respondents were split along party lines, with 61 percent of Democrats supporting Garland’s confirmation compared to 22 percent of Republicans.
Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Will Dunham