TOPEKA — After eliciting a rash of conservative criticism for wanting to hold hearings on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran has reversed course.
In a statement sent to several news organizations late last week, an aide for the freshman Republican senator said Moran spoke to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and now sees no need for Senate hearings.
“He has examined Judge Garland’s record and didn’t need hearings to conclude that the nominee’s judicial philosophy, disregard for Second Amendment rights and sympathy for federal government bureaucracy make Garland unacceptable to serve on the Supreme Court,” the aide said.
Garland’s nomination to the court has been held up by political wrangling in this presidential election year. While some moderate Republicans have shown a willingness to at least conduct Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Garland, a majority of Senate Republicans and conservative groups remain opposed to such hearings.
“Sen. Moran remains committed to preventing this president from putting another justice on the highest court in the land,” the Moran aide added.
Grassley, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, confirmed Moran’s opposition in a statement to CNN, saying Moran called him about the Supreme Court vacancy.
“I’m confident that he’s committed to ensuring the American people have an opportunity to make their voices heard during this pivotal election, and that the Senate should consider the nominee submitted by the next president,” Grassley said.
The comments from Moran’s unidentified aide come as a stark contrast to his previous opinions on Garland and the Senate’s role in considering a Supreme Court nominee.
On March 21, Moran told a small crowd in Cimarron, “I have my job to do,” and “I think the process ought to go forward.”
Though he made it clear Garland likely wouldn’t be worthy of his vote, the comments indicated hearings should be held for the judge.
Within a few days, Moran’s comments sparked backlash from conservative groups. The Judicial Crisis Network announced it was putting the finishing touches on an advertising campaign bashing Moran, and the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund said it was considering backing a primary challenger.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, a fellow Kansas Republican, publicly called on Moran to reconsider, a rare criticism of Moran from a fellow member of the Kansas congressional delegation. The criticisms eventually reached bizarre heights when the Traditional Values Coalition compared Moran to Judas Iscariot.
Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network, said Friday she was pleased to see Moran had changed his mind.
“JCN was troubled by Sen. Moran’s initial response to Garland’s nomination and we made our position clear,” Severino said. “But the senator seems to have reviewed his record, listened to his constituents and responded just as one would hope a conservative senator would respond.”
Moran’s change of mind isn’t only a reversal of what he said in Cimarron but also seems to differ from other statements he has made since mid-February.
On Feb. 15, just two days after Justice Antonin Scalia died, Moran told the Topeka Capital-Journal the Senate “has a constitutional responsibility in the process of determining Supreme Court justices.”
During a March 18 event in Topeka, Moran said considering a Supreme Court nominee “is something I am willing to do and, in fact, have a responsibility to do.”
Speaking on the Senate floor in 2013 in favor of Judge Sri Srinivasan’s appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Moran praised not only the Lawrence High graduate but also the process by which senators advise and consent to presidential nominations.
“I certainly recognize that providing advice and consent of presidential nominees is one of our most important responsibilities as members of the Senate,” Moran said, “and it is a responsibility that I expect and believe all of us take very seriously.”