WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who has urged President Barack Obama to move “right away” in filling the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, has spoken to the White House on what is shaping up to be a major partisan battle, a Reid aide said Monday.
The conservative justice died in Texas on Saturday at age 79.
Reid press aide Kristen Orthman said she was unsure whether the senator has spoken directly to the president about the controversial matter.
It also was not known whether the Nevadan has made any specific recommendations to the White House on who should get the nomination. If so, he clearly is not ready to go public with any recommendation.
“Not unveiling any favorites yet,” Orthman said in response to questions submitted by the Review-Journal.
Going public with such a recommendation would be unusual for a Senate leader, especially this early in the process.
Obama took roughly a month to nominate Justices Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010 after their predecessors announced their plans to retire.
In 2005, when Republican George W. Bush was president, Reid had recommended that Bush nominate Harriet Miers, the president’s White House general counsel, to the nation’s highest court.
Miers’ nomination was withdrawn after it drew opposition, including from conservatives.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, continue to line up behind their leadership’s plan to use their majority power to block Obama from naming Scalia’s successor in the president’s last year, regardless of who he selects.
That includes Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is running for re-election this year.
“We are in the midst of a presidential election and a vigorous debate within both political parties on the direction of the country, with the election less than nine months away,” Portman said. “I believe 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.”
Both Reid and Obama have rejected that stance.
“The president can and should send the Senate a nominee right away,” Reid said in a statement released Saturday after hearing about Scalia’s unexpected death during a trip to Texas.
“It would be unprecedented in recent history for the Supreme Court to go a year with a vacant seat. Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential constitutional responsibilities.”
Early speculation so far has focused on a few potential nominees, including Judges Merrick Garland and Sri Srinivasan, both of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, Judges Paul Watford and Jacqueline Nguyen of the 9th Circuit, which includes Nevada, and Jane Kelly of the 8th Circuit, a possible favorite of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Frank Fahrenkopf, a former Republican National Committee chairman and a former American Gaming Association president who co-chairs the Commission on Presidential Debates, said no names from Nevada have surfaced in Washington, D.C., as potential successors.
But Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia, said he recalls Reid once touting 9th Circuit Court Judge Johnnie Rawlinson, a former U.S. District Court judge in Las Vegas, as potential high court talent.
And Robert Langford, a prominent Las Vegas attorney, suggested U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware.
“If there is anyone in Nevada who is most qualified to be a Supreme Court justice, it would be Judge Boulware,” Langford said about the Las Vegas native. “He would be on any president’s list… I promise you he would be a good thing for Nevada and the West.”