U.S. Sen. Angus King met Wednesday with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and said he was glad to have the opportunity, but worries that the American people are being shut out of the process.

King said he was impressed with Garland and believes he deserves a public hearing.

“I don’t understand this non-hearing position. I understand it as a political matter … but not as a policy matter,” King said in a news conference with reporters outside his office. “Are people afraid the American people are going to see this fellow and like him? I think that may be the case.”

King, an independent and former two-term governor of Maine, caucuses and often votes with Senate Democrats, who have been united on Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died unexpectedly in February.

King said he and Garland spoke about a number of things, including the judge’s views on regulatory issues, on the role of the executive branch and on philosophy.

“I found Judge Garland to be what I call a ‘small-c conservative,’ ” King said. “He’s not an activist … and that was reassuring to me.”

King was the latest senator to meet with Garland, 63, who is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Maine’s other U.S. senator, Susan Collins, met last week with Garland for about an hour in her Washington office. She said she left the meeting impressed with the nominee and “more convinced than ever” that the Senate should hold confirmation hearings. Collins is one of only two Senate Republicans who support hearings. Mark Kirk of Illinois is the other.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, met Tuesday with Garland but only to explain to him why hearings won’t happen. The prospect of hearings or a vote seem unlikely at this point, even though polling suggests most Americans think Garland deserves a hearing.

King said Garland deserves to be vetted by the public and said he would try to convince his colleagues in the Senate to call for hearings.

He said the choice of a new justice is too important to put off until after the November elections, which is what Senate Republicans want because they hope a Republican is elected and can then choose a more conservative justice to replace Scalia, who was considered by some to be the most conservative justice the court has ever seen.

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, a Chicago native, is considered a moderate. He clerked for former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan and for much of his career 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 and he became that court’s chief judge in 2013.

 

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