As the GOP gears up to battle President Barack Obama’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s words may come back to haunt him.
"[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man," Hatch, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the website Newsmax before a luncheon hosted by the Federalist Society on Sunday.
"He probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election,” Newsmax quoted Hatch as saying. "So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants."
But on Wednesday, Obama did nominate Garland, the 63-year-old chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, widely seen as a centrist. In his announcement, Obama noted that in 2010, Hatch had urged him to nominate Garland, saying, "He would very well be supported by all sides."
Obama’s choice of Garland to succeed the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court sets up a fight with Senate Republicans, who are determined to block any nomination until next year in the hopes that a Republican will end up in the White House.
The GOP leadership has insisted that the American people must have a say in who the next justice should be. Democrats counter that Republicans should act on the president’s nomination as the Constitution requires them to.
Reactions to Garland’s nomination fell predictably on party lines.
Wednesday morning, Hatch acknowledged that he thought highly of Garland, but went on to say, "I remain convinced that the best way for the Senate to do its job is to conduct the confirmation process after this toxic presidential election season is over."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, said on the Senate floor that he and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, believed the American people deserved a part in what was a momentous decision, whomever they elected as president.
"Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in filling this vacancy," he said.
Before the announcement, Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee reaffirmed the GOP position, saying he and his colleagues on the Judiciary Committee had already given their advice and consent.
“We will not have any hearings or votes on President Obama’s pick,” he said.
And Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts tweeted, "The next justice will have an effect on #SCOTUS for decades to come and should not be rushed through during an election year."
Among Democrats, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York called Garland a bipartisan choice.
"If the Republicans can't support him, who can they support?" Schumer asked.
Vermont’s Sen. Patrick Leahy cited Garland’s experience leading the prosecution of two of the country’s most notorious cases of domestic terrorism, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Unabomber case, in calling him one of the most accomplished judges on the federal bench.
"Chief Judge Garland is undeniably fair-minded and independent, and it is no wonder that he has received praise from across the political spectrum," Leahy said in a statement. "He should be confirmed without controversy."
And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, called on the Republicans to act.
"[Obama] is doing his job this morning; they should theirs," he said.