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Arkansas' two U.S. senators -- John Boozman and Tom Cotton -- have steadfastly aligned with their party leaders to oppose hearings and a vote on President Obama's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

The president has nominated Merrick Garland, a veteran federal appeals court judge, to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who death last month triggered this ongoing debate over confirmation hearings for his potential successor.

Scalia was a strong conservative on the court for decades and anyone President Obama might have chosen was expected to be more liberal, so Republicans drew a political line even before the president made his pick.

They wanted him not to do his job -- filling a Supreme Court vacancy -- so they wouldn't be asked to do theirs.

Their job is to hold hearings and to vote a prospective nominee up or down.

But the leadership has taken the position that they don't have to do that in an election year, especially in a year that is the last of this president's second term.

Never mind that the plan promises to leave the divided Supreme Court without a ninth member and potentially deciding vote for months.

Their argument is that American voters should direct the choice through selection of the next president.

The expectation is that the Republican nominee, whoever that might be, will make a more conservative choice than Obama. Of course, that strategy requires the Republican nominee to win the election.

Both Boozman and Cotton have echoed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other leading Republicans, saying there should be no confirmation hearings for Obama's nominee and no up-or-down vote either.

Never mind that Obama's choice is Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and a man widely viewed as a moderate.

And never mind that a number of the Republican senators holding out now confirmed his nomination to the federal bench years ago.

Refusing him a hearing now isn't about Garland's fitness for the Supreme Court. It is about politics. Period.

A recent CBS News/New York Times showed that more than seven in 10 respondents believe this holdout by Republicans is politically motivated. Nine in 10 Democrats are convinced of it. So are three out of four independents, as are a slight majority of Republicans.

Most would prefer the Senate respect the confirmation process and vote on Obama's nomination, despite the Republican argument that the people should first get a new president -- and a new nominee for the Supreme Court.

Fifty-three percent of respondents say the Senate should vote on Garland's nomination. But 42 percent say the Senate should wait for the new president's nominee.

The views of the respondents break along party lines with three out of four Democrats wanting a vote on Judge Garland, two out of three Republicans opposing a vote and independents closely divided.

Is this Americans following their leaders or leaders taking their cues from a divided nation?

Either way, it is part of the get-nothing-done political stalemate in this country.

Obama's choice of moderate Garland seemed like an earnest effort to choose someone who might be an acceptable, middle-of-the-road nominee.

No such luck. Republican senators, with little exception, dismissed him out of hand.

McConnell is refusing even to meet with Judge Garland. The courtesy meetings with senators are the informal start of the process and several senators say they won't schedule the meetings.

At least Sen. Boozman isn't quite so rude. He said last week that Garland "would be very welcome" in his office, although he also reasserted his position against considering Garland's nomination.

Boozman is one of a dozen Republican senators who've agreed to meet with the judge, according to a tally being kept by the White House.

A senior adviser to the president, Brian Deese, said last week that the White House will "explicitly request" such meetings with all 54 Republican senators.

So far, while Boozman has agreed to a meeting, Tom Cotton reportedly has not.

Assuming Boozman has that meeting with the prospective jurist and shows him the courtesy of hearing what Garland has to bring to the Supreme Court, Boozman will at least know what the Senate is passing up.

The rest of us won't get the chance to see him vetted by senators in candid, open hearings.

Maybe he should be confirmed. Maybe not.

Unfortunately, the decision will apparently be strictly political and not at all based on Judge Garland's merit.

Commentary on 03/23/2016

Print Headline: Senate's stall is purely political

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