- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 16, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The federal appeals court judge nominated by President Barack Obama for the U.S. Supreme Court got a phone call with Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and may even get a meeting, but his nomination will go no further, Grassley said Wednesday.

Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but Senate Republican leaders have refused to hold hearings with Garland. Grassley, the first non-lawyer to chair the committee, is sticking firm to the decision.

Grassley, 82, said in a statement that he had a telephone call Wednesday afternoon at Garland’s request. He reiterated that Senate Republicans have decided not to take up the nomination until after a new president is elected. He said he will repeat this message again if an in-person meeting is scheduled.

“I’m not going to rule out meeting with anybody,” Grassley said. “Meeting with a justice nominee is just one part of a process. We all know this nomination is not going to go anyplace. A majority of the Senate has already said that.”

Grassley agreed to meet with Garland after senators return from a spring recess next month, the White House said Wednesday afternoon. Democratic leaders will meet with him tomorrow, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the only leader who refused to meet with the nominee.

Garland was nominated to the federal appeals court by President Bill Clinton in 1995 but his nomination wasn’t considered until after the 1996 general election, when Clinton won a second term. Garland was confirmed by a vote of 76-23.

Though Grassley said at the time that Garland appeared qualified and would make a good judge, he voted against Garland due to his effort to reduce the number of justices on that court, saying it had too many for the amount of work assigned.

Former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, who said she plans on filing official papers this week to challenge Grassley as a Democrat, said Grassley appears to be simply following the partisan political maneuvering of his party.

“You really wonder whether or not he’s doing his own thinking or has become a tool of Republican leadership,” she said. “We’re watching his aura of invincibility beginning to erode as Iowans realize he’s no longer doing the job he was elected to do.”

Grassley has not lost a general election in 50 years and has typically won with more than 60 percent of the vote.

The Democratically controlled Iowa Senate is reviewing numerous appointees of Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and all will get a vote, said state Sen. Rob Hogg, a Cedar Rapids attorney. Grassley should do the same, he said.

“The United States Senate should set aside its partisan position and do its job on the President’s nominee,” Hogg said.

Ironically, Branstad in 1995 sought Grassley’s support for Garland, who is Branstad’s second cousin; they are related through Branstad’s mother, whose birth name was Rita Garland.

Branstad met Garland for the first time a few weeks ago during a trip to Washington, governor spokesman Ben Hammes said. The men and their wives had breakfast together and “discussed the family’s Latvian heritage.”

Despite the family ties, Branstad “supports the path chosen by Senator Grassley as chairman of the Judiciary Committee,” Hammes said.


Follow David Pitt on Twitter at https://twitter.com/davepitt . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-pitt

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