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Hatch: It's Not The Time To Have A Battle Over A Supreme Court Nominee


We have a fight over a Supreme Court nomination taking place before anyone has been nominated.


It is a fight over whether there should be a nomination at all this year. On the evening of Justice Antonin Scalia's death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, quote, "the American people should have a voice in the selection of the next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

GREENE: At the Republican presidential debate on CBS News that night, most candidates agreed. Donald Trump said he was sure there would be a nomination. But...


DONALD TRUMP: I think it's up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it. It's called delay, delay, delay.

KELLY: The Democratic candidates did not delay in firing right back.


HILLARY CLINTON: It is outrageous that Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail have already pledged to block any replacement that President Obama nominates.

GREENE: The voice of Democrat Hillary Clinton there. We're going to hear now from a Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee that would have to approve any nominee. It's Senator Orrin Hatch. I reached him in his home state of Utah.

Senator Hatch, thanks for coming back on the program. We appreciate it.

ORRIN HATCH: Well, I'm happy to do it.

GREENE: I just wanted to start by asking you how you will remember Antonin Scalia.

HATCH: Well, Justice Scalia, in my opinion, was a giant of the law. He led a much-needed revolution in the law based on the enduring principle that the role of judges is to interpret the laws, not make the laws from the bench. If you look at his opinions, they were filled with unmatched wit. And they'll continue to shape our nation for decades to come. But above all, he was a dear friend. I'm going to miss him greatly.

GREENE: Well, Senator, let me just ask you - Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader from your party, has said that President Obama should not nominate a replacement; that this should wait for the next president, next year. Do you agree with that?

HATCH: Well, let's put it this way. The notion that lame duck presidents' judicial nominees should not be confirmed during an election season is a well-established rule, historically. And it was observed by both Republicans and Democrats. The Senate has never, in my review, allowed a term-limited president to fill a Supreme Court vacancy created this late in his term. In fact, the only time the Senate has confirmed the nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy created after voting began in an election year was in 1916. And that vacancy only arose because Justice Charles Evans Hughes resigned his seat on the court to run for president himself. And in this particular case, I think most every Republican has to feel like in this really robust election year with all the fighting and back and forth going on, that this is not the time to have a Supreme Court - a battle over a Supreme Court nominee.

GREENE: But isn't this - if I may, Senator, the American people elected this president. And the American people elected this Congress. Shouldn't the American people expect that these two branches of government could come together and fulfill their duties and get a Supreme Court nominee and replace Scalia?

HATCH: Well, it would be wonderful if we could. On the other hand, I don't think many people believe that Republicans could support a nominee by this current president in this very, very political time when both sides are really upset. And frankly, I could live with anything, but, you know, in all honesty, I think Mitch McConnell is right on this issue. And, you know, the Court has well-established rules for dealing with vacancies.

GREENE: Why not let the process play out? Instead of sort of assuming who you know will be nominated, let President Obama name someone, and then you, in committee, will be able to hold those hearings. And, you know, you're a very respected voice. You'll be able to listen to the nominee and express your opinion and let the process go forward.

HATCH: Well, that could happen. I doubt it. Because, you know, President Obama and the Senate Democrats, they don't have any room to complain about Republican hesitancy to confirm a nominee this year. After all, they politicized the confirmation process starting with the politics of personal destruction, as they used without compunction against Robert Bork, one of the greatest legal minds that this country's ever had, and Clarence Thomas. They tried to destroy Clarence Thomas. Fortunately, he was able to get on the court and is now writing some of the most important decisions.

GREENE: Sorry, I just want to make sure I understand you. I mean, if President Obama nominates someone and, you know, other members of your party decide not even to hold hearings, you would stand by them?

HATCH: Yeah, I would.

GREENE: What if it's a nominee who, you know, has worked with both sides and you find not so terrible?

HATCH: Well, I have to say this. You know, Justice Scalia himself once weighed in on his own replacement. He suggested that Judge Frank Easterbrook of the Seventh Circuit would be his preferred replacement. But unfortunately, we have no reason to believe that President Obama will nominate a mainstream replacement, given his two previous Supreme Court nominees.

GREENE: What about Sri Srinivasan, who is one candidate who's been named who has - you know, has had support from conservatives in the past?

HATCH: Well, he's a very fine person in my eyes. But all I can say is that I think McConnell is right. And I think even some Democrats, if they looked back at how they mishandled our nominees over the years, I think they probably feel he's right too.

GREENE: Last question - you are a name who has been tossed around as a potential Supreme Court nominee.

HATCH: (Laughter).

GREENE: Are you up for the job if the president were to nominate you?

HATCH: Oh, I'd be up for the job, but I don't think they're going to appoint an 82-year-old man. And I'm not sure I would want to be appointed and have all the Democrats praying that I die real soon afterwards (laughter). But if that happened, I would live another 20 years just to spite them (laughter).

GREENE: Senator, really nice to talk to you. Thank you very much.

HATCH: Good to chat with you.

GREENE: That's Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from the state of Utah. He serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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