Former President Bill Clinton mistakenly claimed that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals by a “97 to nothing” vote. The Senate voted 76-23 to confirm Garland, who had been nominated by Clinton.
On March 16, President Obama nominated Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that the Senate will not consider any nominee until a new president is elected in November. The issue of filling the seat has become a hot topic on the campaign trail on both sides of the aisle.
Clinton, April 3: So I appointed Judge Garland. And, he was confirmed 97 to nothing. And – 97 to nothing.
Clinton, April 4: I thought President Obama was pretty smart to appoint Judge Garland, cause I put him on the Court of Appeals – he was confirmed by 97 to zero.
Garland was originally nominated by Clinton on Sept. 5, 1995, to fill the seat of retiring Judge Abner J. Mikva on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The nomination stalled in the Senate, and was eventually returned to the president on Oct. 4, 1996. Under Senate Rule XXXI, if a nomination is not confirmed or rejected during the Senate session in which it is made, the president must resend the nomination to be considered at a later session.
Clinton resubmitted Garland’s name for consideration to the 105th Congress on Jan. 7, 1997. During the confirmation process, there was almost no opposition to Garland on the basis of his qualifications. Rather, some Republicans argued that the caseload of the D.C. Circuit was light enough that there was no need to fill the vacancy at all.
At the time, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa stated, “I can confidently conclude that the D.C. circuit does not need 12 judges or even 11 judges.” Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee who supported Garland’s nomination at the time, declared that Garland was “not only a fine nominee, but is as good as Republicans can expect from this administration.”
The final vote was tallied on March 19, 1997, and Garland was confirmed by a vote of 76-23. All of the no votes came from Republican senators, some of whom are still in office, including McConnell, Grassley, Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, and Alabama Sens. Richard C. Shelby and Jeff Sessions. Democratic Sen. John Glenn of Ohio did not vote.
It’s worth noting that D.C. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan, who was nominated by President Obama in June 2012 and again in January 2013, was in fact confirmed by a 97-0 vote in May 2013. Srinivasan was one of the other major names floated as a potential nominee to fill Scalia’s seat, and was widely reported to be at the top of Obama’s shortlist before the Garland announcement.