A poll shows a majority of Americans want a Supreme Court nominee who wouldn’t upset the past balance of the high court, even as liberal groups and lawmakers ramp up pressure on Senate Republicans to allow President Obama to fill the court’s vacancy.
In a CNN/ORC survey, a plurality of respondents — 37 percent — said Mr. Obama should nominate “someone who would keep the court about as it was” before the death Feb. 13 of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Another 32 percent said they want a justice who would tilt the court to the liberal side, and 29 percent said the nominee should be more conservative.
The vacancy has left the high court with a 4-4 split between liberal and conservative justices.
Mr. Obama is expected to choose a nominee within the next two weeks. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and all Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee say they won’t hold hearings on any nominee. They argue that voters should have a say by electing a president to make an appointment next year.
Several polls, including two released Thursday, show that a majority of Americans don’t agree with the Republicans’ position of delay. Most respondents said they favor having Senate confirmation hearings on Mr. Obama’s eventual nominee.
Armed with the polls, liberal groups including MoveOn.org, Organizing for Action (formerly Mr. Obama’s campaign organization), People for the American Way and others held a series of events Thursday in the home states of vulnerable Republican senators running for re-election this year. They delivered petitions with what they said were more than 1.5 million signatures calling on the senators to allow confirmation hearings.
“The case that can be brought to bear against the Republicans in general and individual Republicans is really quite powerful,” said pollster Geoff Garin of Hart Research Associates, whose survey was commissioned by a coalition of progressive groups. “Mitch McConnell didn’t do his members any favor at all by putting them in this position.”
The progressives essentially have three “talking points” in their campaign.
First, they are trying to convince voters that Republican senators “are following the lead of extreme voices such as Donald Trump and [Sen.] Ted Cruz in putting politics ahead of constitutional duties,” Mr. Garin said.
“The more any Republican senator is identified with that, the more it will jeopardize his or her position as a candidate for re-election,” he said. “When we look at this by people’s initial voting intentions in the Senate elections, this really has the potential to strip votes away from people who otherwise would consider voting for a Republican.”
Second, the liberal groups are portraying Republican senators who won’t allow a confirmation hearing as “extreme and irresponsible.”
Third, they are pointing out that it’s the first time in modern history, dating back to 1916, that the Senate won’t be considering a Supreme Court nominee who is seeking a hearing. Some candidates have been confirmed since then without hearings, and some nominees have withdrawn from consideration, but none who wanted a hearing has been denied one.
Along with Mr. McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the campaigns are targeting Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
The Hart Research poll looked at the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Pollsters found that 69 percent of respondents — including 49 percent of Republicans — want the Senate to hold an up-or-down vote on a nominee.
About 60 percent said they would be less likely to support a senator who refused to consider or vote on Mr. Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.
On the Senate floor Thursday, Democrats criticized Mr. Grassley one by one for his refusal to consider a nominee this year.
“This is obstruction and chaos,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Mr. Grassley hit back by accusing Democrats of engaging in “unfortunate political gamesmanship.”
The CNN/ORC poll found that 58 percent of Americans want Mr. Obama to nominate someone rather than leave the seat vacant until the next president takes office in January. Of those, 82 percent are Democrats, 29 percent are Republicans and 59 percent are independents.
The survey found agreement on all sides that the Republican leadership should hold confirmation hearings: 67 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of independents and 60 percent of Democrats.
The findings on the high court nomination generally track the results of a Pew Research poll released Feb. 22. That survey showed that 56 percent of Americans want the Senate to hold hearings and a vote on a nominee.
But the Pew poll found that 66 percent of Republicans don’t want the Senate to hold a confirmation hearing and 79 percent of Democrats do. Fifty-six percent of independents favored hearings.