Feb 24, 2016 2:25 PM

Steinhauser: No let up in Ayotte-Hassan battle over Supreme Court vacancy

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – Kelly Ayotte’s holding firm in her belief that next president, rather than President Barack Obama, should nominate a successor to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. And that goes as far as not meeting in person with anyone Obama nominates.

And New Hampshire’s Republican senator told NH1 News she's not concerned with some editorials in Granite State newspapers that are critical of her, and that her stance in support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has nothing to do with trying to ward off any possible primary challenge from the right as she runs for re-election this year.

Wednesday, in an op-ed on the popular Supreme Court website SCOTUSblog, the President dropped his latest hints on whom he may nominate to succeed Scalia, the legendary conservative justice who died expectantly a week and a half ago.

The president said the perfect nominee has impeccable credentials and a non-ideological view of the law.

“I seek judges who approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda, but rather a commitment to impartial justice, a respect for precedent, and a determination to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand,” wrote Obama, in a hint that he was hoping for bipartisan support for his eventual nominee.

Fight kicked off just a couple of hours after Scalia's death

Two hours after news of Scalia’s death, McConnell said that “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

A couple of hours after McConnell’s statement, the President took to television to announce that "I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time.”

The battle over the high court vacancy has become a major fight between Ayotte and her Democratic challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan. The day after Scalia’s death, Hassan urged a timely confirmation, saying "the Senate needs to put politics aside and fulfill its constitutional duty by taking up a Supreme Court nomination in a timely fashion.

A couple of hours later Ayotte weighed in, writing “I believe the Senate should not move forward with the confirmation process until the American people have spoken by electing a new president.”

Tuesday McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (the number two Senate Republican) both said they wouldn’t meet with a Supreme Court nominee. Twenty-four hours Ayotte dug in behind her leadership, saying that she as well wouldn’t meet with anyone nominated by the President.

Hassan, along with state and national Democratic party groups, has criticized Ayotte’s stance. Ayotte has defended her voting record in the Senate on judicial nominations.

Wednesday Hassan wrote “I am deeply troubled that Senator Ayotte remains in lock-step with her party and continues to refuse to do her job by making clear that she won’t so much as meet with a Supreme Court nominee, despite the fact that a nominee has not even been named yet. Ayotte’s refusal to even sit down and talk is exactly what’s wrong with Washington, and the people of New Hampshire expect – and deserve – better.”

Ayotte says SCOTUS fight not about preventing any challenge

But Ayotte says she’s not concerned about criticism from her opponent, other Democratic groups, or even from the editorial boards of some of New Hampshire’s newspapers.

“What I’m concerned about is letting the people have an opportunity to weigh in on this nomination. This is a very consequential nomination that will impact the court for decades and our country. And I believe with a pending presidential election we just finished our first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire, that the people of the nation should weigh in in the presidential election and let the new president nominate this very consequential position,” Ayotte told NH1 News on Tuesday.

And she brushed aside talk that her position on the Supreme Court vacancy was a move to snuff out any potential primary challenge from the right.

“My calculation is very straight forward and that is that I think it’s important that the people weigh in on this,” Ayotte said.

“We’re in the midst of a presidential election. It’s a very important election and who is elected president will have an opportunity, whether Republican or Democrat, to nominate a replacement for Justice Scalia. And obviously this is about my responsibility under the Constitution to advise and consent. And I believe we should be advising and consenting when a new president is elected based on what the people think in this country and let the people have a say,” she added.

The showdown between Ayotte and Hassan is one of the most high profile, bitter, and expensive Senate races this year, and it could ultimately decide if the Republicans keep control of the chamber.


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