Hillary Clinton isn’t the first to speak out against Senate Republicans’ unprecedented refusal to confirm — or, in many cases, to even meet with — President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. In a speech at the University of Wisconsin on Monday, Clinton echoed the sentiments of many Democratic lawmakers when she called on Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to “step up and do his job” and hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, whom Obama nominated in March. In response, Republicans criticized her for politicizing the already-political nomination process.
In her speech, Clinton used Grassley’s own words against him: “He says we should wait for a new president because, and I quote, ‘The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice.’ “Well, as one of the more than 65 million Americans who voted to re-elect Barack Obama, I’d say my voice is being ignored.”
She also linked GOP obstruction to the rise of candidates who suggest things like banning all Muslims from the United States. “The same obstructionism that we’ve seen from Republicans since the beginning of the Obama administration, the same disregard for the rule of law [has] given rise to the extremist candidacies of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz,” she said. “What the Republicans have sown with their extremist tactics, they are now reaping with Donald Trump’s candidacy.”
In response to Clinton’s speech, GOP lawmakers criticized her for politicizing the courts. “If Hillary Clinton is criticizing you, you must be doing something right,” Adam Brandon, the chief executive of a tea party advocacy group, told the New York Times, adding that, “the Senate is performing its constitutional responsibility” in blocking Obama’s nomination.
For his part, Grassley accused Clinton of using the Supreme Court issue to distract from her shortcomings. “I see a person who has recently been badly defeated in three states for the nomination,” he said. “I see a person that the FBI is getting ready to question her about the emails and about the Clinton Foundation, and she’s trying to change the story to something else.”
Since Senate Republicans announced they would refuse to consider any candidate nominated by Obama for the Supreme Court, they’ve insisted their stance is based on constitutional precedent rather than politics. And as recently as yesterday, Grassley said there “has been broad consideration that when you have a lame duck president, during the last year the appointment should go over to a new president.”
But the deepening ideological gulf between Republicans and Democrats makes the next Supreme Court justice an inherently political issue. Many Americans now see the court through a partisan lens, and as Ed Kilgore writes in New York, “Scalia’s replacement, if and when confirmed, could represent the definitive triumph of one vision of the Constitution over another.”
Clinton appears to be using that possibility to her advantage. Her remarks indicate she’s looking ahead to the general election, using the frightening possibility of Trump’s Supreme Court pick to drum up support. Because the court itself might be presumed impartial, but the people who choose the court sure aren’t.