Republican Collins urges U.S. Senate hearings on high court pick

WASHINGTON A moderate Republican senator heaped praise on Tuesday on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, bucking Senate Republican leaders in calling for confirmation hearings but saying she was not optimistic enough others in her party would agree.

Susan Collins of Maine became only the second Republican senator to meet with Merrick Garland since Obama nominated the centrist appellate judge last month to fill the court’s vacancy left by the Feb. 13 death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

At a time when Republican senators are coming under increasing pressure from conservative activists to go along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to block any nominee chosen by Obama, Collins met for an hour with Garland.

After that meeting, Collins told reporters, “The meeting left me more convinced than ever that the process should proceed. The next step, in my view, should be public hearings before the Judiciary Committee.”

McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley have shut the door on hearings or votes to confirm Garland. They contend that Obama’s successor, who will be elected on Nov. 8 and take office on Jan. 20, should fill the vacancy.

Collins, a four-term senator and one of the few remaining moderate Senate Republicans, is not a member of the Judiciary Committee.

“I found Judge Garland to be well-informed, thoughtful, impressive, extraordinarily bright and with a sensitivity I look for, to the appropriate roles that the Constitution assigns to the three branches” of the U.S. government, Collins said.

Collins said she was not optimistic she would be able to sway enough of her fellow Republicans to begin a formal confirmation process during this volatile and unpredictable presidential and congressional election year.

The court is now evenly split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals following Scalia’s death, meaning his successor could influence the court’s ideological direction for years to come.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan)

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