Tester meets with Supreme Court nominee, takes aim at Senate Republicans

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

Sen. Jon Tester met Thursday morning with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, saying the U.S. Constitution directs members of the Senate to consider all nominees, regardless of the season.

In a rare move, Tester criticized Senate Republicans for refusing to hold a hearing to determine if Garland was fit for a seat on the high court.

“Refusing to meet with Judge Garland is as dangerous as it is unprecedented,” Tester said. “It’s a dereliction of duty. Considering a Supreme Court nominee is not a choice, it’s a Constitutional responsibility.”

Tester spent roughly 40 minutes in a one-on-one session with Garland early Thursday. He questioned Garland on issues ranging from the Second Amendment to privacy and the influence of money in politics.

Tester said the conversation was revealing, though he wasn’t yet ready to back Garland’s nomination.

“I’m not done vetting Judge Garland,” Tester said. “But the meeting I had with Garland is a meeting every senator should have. It’s required of us. The court should not be as dysfunctional as the Senate.”

Tester, a Democrat, took rare aim at Senate Republicans for playing politics and neglecting their constitutional duties to vet a nomination to the Supreme Court. He said dark money and “gotcha politics” have placed Washington, D.C., on edge.

As a result, Tester said, the Senate has grown increasingly dysfunctional. The governing body has held session for only 50 days this year – a limited number given the year is nearly half over.

Approval ratings for Congress remain at historic lows.

“There are many folks in Congress who are putting partisanship ahead of the folks they represent,” Tester said. “Even with so little going on this year, there are members of the Senate who are willing to leave a seat vacant on the nation’s high court and jeopardize a lifetime of legal precedent because they have put election-year politics ahead of what’s best for this country.”

Earlier this year, President Barrack Obama nominated Garland to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court. Republicans thus far have refused to meet with Garland and have failed to hold hearings on the nomination.

“Garland is a descent man,” Tester said. “He deserves to have a hearing and be further vetted so we can make a decision on whether he’s the right man for this court.”