Sen. Collins most concerned about SCOTUS nominee’s views on separation of powers

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( – Judge Merrick Garland, nominated by President Obama to succeed conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, is “clearly an accomplished juror” and “highly intelligent,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told MSNBC on Wednesday, one day after meeting with Garland.

“I found that he had thought very deeply about the issues facing the court, and we had a very good discussion for more than an hour. I can’t say, for certain, that I would vote for him. That’s why we need hearings,” Collins said.

“He’s had 19 years on the D.C. circuit court. And during that time, he has authored some controversial decisions that we discussed yesterday. But the issue that is most important to me are his views on the separation of powers.

“I think that in both President Bush’s administration, and especially in President Obama’s administration, that that has gotten out of whack and that President Obama has used executive orders to circumvent Congress far too often. So if I had to pick one issue that I think really needs to be explored further, that would be it.”

Collins noted that just two weeks ago, only two Republicans expressed a willingness to meet with Judge Garland. “And now there’s something like 14 Republican senators who are willing to sit down with him. I view that as an evolution. That is a good sign. And to me, that is what would customarily be done. And I’m glad that that many of my colleagues willing to sit down with him.”

Even if more Republicans do meet with Garland, Collins said she doesn’t think there will be hearings right away.

“I’m hoping that as more of my colleagues sit down wit Judge Garland, that they will conclude, as I’ve concluded, that he deserves a hearing. But it’s very difficult to predict. I know that feelings run very strong on the other side, and they’re sincere as well.”

Collins said she hasn’t given a lot of thought to a possible lame duck confirmation hearing. “But what I have thought a lot about is the irony that if a Democratic were elected president, I think the chances are that he or she would choose a nominee that would be to the left of Judge Garland. And that would certainly be ironic, if that ends up happening. That might be the case that would lead to the lame duck scenario.

“It is my understanding, however, that the Republican leader has ruled that option out. So I don’t know how likely that is.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says the next president should choose a Supreme Court nominee.

According to the White House, Garland will meet next week with additional Republican senators, including Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who chairs the Judiciary Committee.

“So yes, there is continued progress that we are seeing,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Thursday. He said the process is moving “slowly but surely.”

President Obama on Thursday planned to press his case for Garland’s confirmation hearing in a speech at the University of Chicago Law School, where he once taught constitutional law.

— Written by Susan Jones