U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, is defending the Senate Republican stance that no hearings or votes will be held on President Barack Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, saying the rejection of Obama’s pick by the GOP Senate is a foregone conclusion.
Johnson’s remarks came at an event in Madison on Wednesday. They represent Johnson’s most complete explanation to date of his opposition to letting Obama fill the vacancy left by the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
The issue is coming to the fore in the first-term Republican senator’s campaign with Democrat Russ Feingold, who said the Senate should work with Obama to fill the Scalia vacancy.
The U.S. Constitution says the president names justices to fill Supreme Court vacancies with “the advice and consent of the Senate.” This week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee vowed not to hold a vote or hearings on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Obama has yet to nominate a justice but said he will do so soon.
Democrats have sharply criticized Johnson and fellow Republicans for pledging inaction. Such a move would leave the court short a member for nearly a year or more, until after the next president takes office next January. It also could lead to deadlock by creating the potential for 4-4 Supreme Court votes.
But Johnson — citing Obama’s past nominees to the high court, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — said there’s no reason to believe he and his Senate GOP colleagues could approve the next one.
“He’s got a track record. We know the type of justice he would appoint. We wouldn’t confirm that individual,” Johnson said. “Not acting is also withholding our consent, and that’s within our right.”
Johnson underscored the stakes of the 2016 election, which will determine both the next president and whether the Supreme Court has a liberal or conservative majority. The death of the conservative Scalia leaves the court evenly split between justices who typically vote with its liberal and conservative factions.
Johnson cast the selection of the next Supreme Court justice as a choice between judges who interpret and uphold the law versus “super-legislators” who attempt to rewrite it.
“It’s pretty obvious the type of judge or justice that President Obama would nominate would be a super-legislator,” Johnson said. “It would tip the balance of the court, and it would put at risk our Second Amendment gun rights, I think our First Amendment freedom of speech rights.
“What we’re saying is, let the American people decide.”
Feingold’s campaign has criticized Johnson, accusing him of taking cues from McConnell and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who has urged Senate Republicans to “delay, delay, delay” the Supreme Court appointment.
A liberal group circulated a poll Wednesday suggesting Johnson’s stance is unpopular in his home state. The poll, conducted by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling and commissioned by the group Americans United for Change, found a broad majority of Wisconsinites want Scalia’s vacancy to be filled this year.
An even larger majority, 76 percent, said senators should at least wait to see who Obama nominates before deciding whether to confirm him or her.
Johnson’s campaign has noted Feingold, during his most recent term as a U.S. senator in 2005 and 2006, left open the possibility of blocking former President George W. Bush’s nomination of Justice Samuel Alito. Feingold said he wouldn’t rule out a Senate filibuster of Alito’s nomination, though Alito went on to be confirmed with bipartisan support.