WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the plan to block anyone President Obama nominates to the Supreme Court is the “height of arrogance."
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Holder said the president has a constitutional responsibility to appoint a nominee to fill the vacancy on the court, and said the stated plans by Senate Republicans to oppose any nominee this year is part of a long history of the Senate's leadership to try and obstruct the president.
“The notion that the Majority Leader Senator McConnell, without knowing who the nominee was going to be pronounced the nomination dead even before [its] arrival is in some ways the height of arrogance," he said. "But also I think it's irresponsible.”
It's been more than a month since the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Obama is expected to announce a nominee as early as this week from a shortlist of federal judges that includes Merrick Garland, Paul Watford, and Sri Srinivasan. Another name that has circulated is Ketanji Brown Jackson, a federal trial judge in Washington, D.C.
“I'm confident the president will nominate somebody who is in the mainstream of American legal thought," Holder said.
On Sunday, Politico reported the White House was set to begin a coordinated media and political strategy to weaken the Republicans' stance that the next nomination should be made by the next president.
The Republican National Committee is countering the White House's effort with an effort of its own, teaming up with America Rising Squared to launch attack ads and other media and run opposition to Obama's eventual pick, the AP reported on Monday.
In the interview BuzzFeed News, Holder argued that the GOP was shirking in its duties and holding up the function of government at a critical time.
"It strikes me as irresponsible to think that you would pronounce your opposition to the concept of a nominee," Holder said. "This president still has a year or so to go in his second term. The Constitution does not say that you can't nominate somebody in your last year as president. And to let the court go with that seat unfilled is something that I think is the height of irresponsibility and shows arrogance."
Holder said he was miffed that the GOP would uphold and "put at risk" the workings of government and hobble the judicial branch of government for political advantage.
“The reality is that unless somebody is confirmed this year the court will probably go without a ninth member for 15-to-16 months, which is the longest period of time that we've had a vacancy that long since the Civil War," he said. "If you think about all the major cases that this court has to deal with that's a very disturbing prospect.”
Holder went through a list of effects a series of 4-4 decisions at the Supreme Court level could have; lower court rulings will stay in effect, for instance. (How the court will operate without Scalia, and with a different center of power, has been the source of a lot of speculation.)
"And all of that can be avoided by simply considering the nominee that the president makes and then making a determination as to whether that person is fit," he said. "There is a power that you have if you control the Senate but that power is supposed to be used to serve the nation. And what they are doing is trying to serve a political cause, party and an ideological view which I think is totally wrong."
Holder said the he believes blame doesn't lie with Obama, but with the GOP, for whom obstruction of Obama's presidency has been the rule.
“This notion that somehow or other the president is equally to blame for the dysfunction in Washington really flies in the face of the facts," he said. "It's the Republicans who have been unwilling to do anything to meet the president halfway. He's offered his hand and they've just kind of pushed it aside. And I think with regard to the potential nominee, this is just typical of the way in which they have used the power that they have for the past seven years.”
Darren Sands is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Darren Sands at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.