Vice President Joe Biden condemned Thursday Senate Republicans’ efforts to block an election-year Supreme Court nomination as dangerous and overly partisan, saying that their actions would lead to a “patchwork Constitution” that would prevent the Supreme Court from delivering “equal justice under the law.”
“The longer this high-court vacancy remains unfilled, the more serious a problem we will face — a problem compounded by turbulence, confusion and uncertainty about our safety, our security, our liberty, our privacy, the future of our children and grandchildren,” Biden said.
He said that President Barack Obama was ready to do his job but that Republicans intend to “abdicate their responsibility completely.”
Biden’s speech at Georgetown Law School in Washington comes as part of an effort to clarify remarks he made during a 1992 Senate floor speech that have become a Republican talking point in recent months. In the speech, Biden, then the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued that then-President George H.W. Bush should not fill a Supreme Court vacancy until after the election.
“Some will criticize such a decision and say that it was nothing more than an attempt to save a seat on the court in hopes that a Democrat will be permitted to fill it, but that would not be our intention,” Biden said at the time. “It would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is underway, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over.”
“Senate consideration of a nominee under these circumstances is not fair to the president, to the nominee or to the Senate itself,” Biden added.
Later in the 1992 speech, Biden said he would consider supporting a moderate nominee if the president conferred with the Senate about his choice. However, Senate Republicans have repeatedly used the first part of Biden’s remarks — which some have nicknamed the “Biden rule” — to justify their refusal to confirm any nominee during the election.
— Senate Republicans (@Senate_GOPs) March 24, 2016
Biden said Republicans are distorting his meaning and quoting selectively from his earlier remarks to suit their agenda. He called the "Biden rule" ridiculous and said "there was only one rule I ever followed, that was the Constitution's rule of advice and consent."
He reminded the audience at Georgetown Thursday that when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he helped move eight Supreme Court nominees through the committee, and each of those nominees got hearings and votes on the Senate floor.
Those nominees received hearings “not much of the time. Not most of the time. Every single solitary time,” Biden said Thursday.
Some Senate Republicans tweeted responses to Biden's speech, including Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, among others.
— Senator Hatch Office (@SenOrrinHatch) March 24, 2016
Biden spoke at length about partisan politics, adding that when he or Obama travel abroad, world leaders now often question whether they will be able to work with Congress to fulfill their promises.
“Dysfunction and partisanship are bad enough on Capitol Hill. But we can’t let the Senate spread this dysfunction to another branch of the government, to the Supreme Court of the United States,” Biden said.
Biden also warned that allowing the Supreme Court to remain with only eight seats filled would lead it to deadlock on important issues, sending cases back to lower courts and threatening to “fragment our national unity.”
Despite his tough remarks, the vice president repeatedly called Republicans his friends on Thursday. He has worked as a liaison to the Senate in the past and has taken up this role again since Obama nominated Merrick Garland. He has also spoken about the issue while campaigning for Democrats this winter and will likely continue to play a key role in the process moving forward.