Vice-President Joe Biden on Thursday said it was “ridiculous” for Senate Republicans to invoke his name in claiming that a “Biden rule” should prevent President Barack Obama from appointing a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the Associated Press reports.
Addressing a group of professors and students at Georgetown Law School, Biden insisted that a 1992 speech he gave on the Senate floor as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which he appeared to endorse the idea of blocking judicial appointments during a presidential-election season, didn’t mean what Republican lawmakers are now claiming it did.
“There is no Biden rule. It doesn’t exist,” he said, explaining that the point of his speech — which referred to a hypothetical situation in which a justice were to resign mere months before the 1992 presidential election — was to encourage consultation with the Senate in choosing a nominee. He went on, “There is only one rule I ever followed in the Judiciary Committee. That was the Constitution’s clear rule of advice and consent.”
Obama’s choice of Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s seat on the highest court showed the president was following “the path of moderation,” Biden added, warning that Republican obstruction of Obama’s efforts to fill the vacancy could lead to “a genuine constitutional crisis.”
Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus immediately issued a statement ridiculing Biden’s “weak attempt to walk back his own standard on opposing election-year Supreme Court nominees,” which “just can’t be taken seriously.” This was not Biden’s first attempt to disclaim the “Biden rule” — he made similar remarks in a New York Times op-ed on March 3.
Despite its supposed origins in the 1992 speech, Google Trends suggests the term “Biden rule” is of recent vintage. When Scalia passed away last month, Senate Republicans were still calling it the “Thurmond rule” after the late Senator Strom Thurmond, who blocked Lyndon Johnson’s attempt to elevate Abe Fortas to the chief-justice position in the summer of 1968.
At some point in the month between Scalia’s death and Garland’s nomination, they rechristened it the “Biden rule,” presumably after being reminded that Strom “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes” Thurmond was not an especially sympathetic figure these days, whereas attributing the rule to Biden would make for a more compelling narrative.
Neither “rule” is an actual standing rule of the Senate. In any case, both Thurmond’s block on Fortas and Biden’s speech took place in the summer just months before election day; neither man had contemplated blocking judicial nominations for the entire final year of a presidential term.