U.S. Sen. Susan Collins emerged from her meeting Tuesday with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland “more convinced than ever” that confirmation hearings should be held, although she acknowledged that possibility “seems remote.”

“It was an excellent meeting. We met for more than an hour in my office,” Collins said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “I was able to raise a host of questions and issues with him ranging from his judicial philosophy, to his view of separation of powers and executive overreach, to Second Amendment cases.”

Collins said that despite her positive impression of Garland, who was nominated last month by President Obama to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, she wasn’t ready to commit her support. She explained that she never takes a position on any nominee before public hearings, something that may not happen in this case.

“I will certainly concede that the possibility of a public hearing seems remote right now, but there has been a huge change in the number of senators who are willing to sit down with Judge Garland,” Collins said. “Prior to recess, there were only two. Now there are more than a dozen. That is a good sign because I believe that those who do sit down and discuss issues will find he is impressive.”


Collins is the second Senate Republican to meet with Garland. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois talked with him last week and then criticized his Senate colleagues for not at least considering Garland.

Collins was not as critical of her fellow Republicans, but she did express concern that the voting public may lose sight of any accomplishments of the Republican-led Senate because of the fight over Garland.

The Obama administration and Senate Democrats have ratcheted up the pressure on Republicans, particularly Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, to fulfill their constitutional obligation and consider his nominee to replace Scalia, the conservative icon who died unexpectedly in February.

Many Democrats have cited strong public support. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week indicated 63 percent of Americans support holding hearings, while just 32 percent say the next president should get to choose a new justice.

According to a tracking of Republican senators by The Washington Post, 16 have said they are willing to meet with Garland but only two actually support confirmation hearings – Collins and Kirk. Only three would support a lame-duck session of Congress – Collins, Kirk and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Two other Republicans – Jerry Moran of Kansas and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – had previously supported hearings but have since flip-flopped under pressure from McConnell and conservative groups.

One of those groups, FreedomWorks, has been vocal about Senate Republicans holding firm and has sent more than a million messages from activists to senators, including Collins.

The group’s CEO, Adam Brandon, slammed Maine’s senator in a statement late Tuesday, saying she was out of touch with grass-roots activists and playing into the hands of the Obama White House.

“We just can’t trust Susan Collins’ judgment,” Brandon said.


Filling a seat on the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court begins with a nomination by the president. Typically, that nomination then goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is currently made up of 11 Republicans and nine Democrats. The committee vets the candidate and hosts hearings, during which the nominee can address questions or concerns. The committee then takes a vote. Even if a majority of members opposes the candidate, the nominee traditionally has gone to the full Senate for an up or down vote.

Only a simple majority is needed to confirm. Since Republicans hold a 54-seat majority in the Senate, that means five Republicans would need to support Garland – assuming all 44 Democrats and two independents vote to confirm.

Garland, 63, is considered a moderate. He hails from Chicago but went to college at Harvard in Massachusetts. He was a clerk for former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. For much of his career, Garland worked at the Justice Department and supervised high-profile cases, including the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers.

President Bill Clinton nominated Garland to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1997. He became that court’s chief judge in 2013.

Collins is among seven current Republican senators who voted in 1997 to confirm Garland to his current seat.

She said Tuesday that it will be ironic if the Republican-controlled Senate refuses to consider Garland, only to have the next president, if he or she is a Democrat, nominate someone more liberal.


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