U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, wants to wait until there’s a new president before filling a Supreme Court seat

U.S. Supreme Court vacancy

By David Skolnick



U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s decision to join other Republican senators in saying a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court shouldn’t be filled until the next president takes office – almost 11 months from now – drew sharp criticism from the two Democratic candidates looking to oust him.

“This wouldn’t be unusual,” Portman said Monday. “It is common practice for the Senate to stop acting on lifetime appointments during the last year of a presidential term, and it’s been nearly 80 years since any president was permitted to immediately fill a vacancy that arose in a presidential election year.”

A Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed Justice Anthony Kennedy 97-0 on Feb. 4, 1988, the last year of Ronald Reagan’s presidential term. But Reagan made the nomination in November 1987.

President Barack Obama says he’ll nominate someone to fill the vacancy resulting from Saturday’s death of Justice Antonin Scalia, a leading conservative on the court.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said the day Scalia died that the Senate would not confirm a replacement until after a new president takes over.

The longest confirmation for a Supreme Court justice was 125 days for Louis Brandeis in 1916. Obama has about 340 days left in his term.

Meanwhile, Ohio’s senior senator, Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Cleveland, “believes it is President Obama’s constitutional duty to nominate a qualified candidate as justice,” according to a statement from his office.

Portman, from the Cincinnati area, said with the presidential race ongoing, “the best thing for the country is to trust the American people to weigh in on who should make a lifetime appointment that could reshape the Supreme Court for generations.”

Ex-Gov. Ted Strickland of the Columbus area, the leading Democrat challenging Portman, said the senator “has abandoned his constitutional duties to the people of Ohio in order to once again prioritize the interests of the Washington power-brokers that he serves. Sen. Portman is failing to do his job, shirking his responsibilities to our nation, jeopardizing the institutions of our democracy and engaging in exactly the kind of dysfunctional behavior that frustrates Ohioans about Congress.”

Portman’s campaign quickly struck back using a different judicial argument.

“When it comes to state judicial nominees, Ted Strickland was deeply criticized by Ohio media for putting his own political interests over what was best for Ohio,” said Corry Bliss, Portman’s campaign manager.

“Once again, Ted Strickland says, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’”

When Chief Justice Thomas Moyer died in April 2010, Strickland chose Franklin County Probate Court Judge Eric Brown, the Democratic Party’s nominee for that position, to fill the unexpired term. The Plain Dealer of Cleveland and The Columbus Dispatch wrote editorials critical of the decision.

Brown lost the general election in November 2010 to Republican Maureen O’Connor.

Also Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, a Democrat running in the March 15 Senate primary, said, “Refusing to hold hearings or schedule a vote on the president’s nominee – simply because the vacancy occurred in an election year – would put the Senate in violation of both historical precedent and the clear language of the Constitution itself.”

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