When Justice Scalia died, just over six weeks ago, Senate Republicans immediately announced their opposition to an Obama-appointed replacement. They would withhold their advice and consent until after the Presidential elections, they maintained, even as the President nominated a well-liked, highly-qualified moderate like Merrick Garland.
But, Republican resolve might be weakening, and it's becoming more likely that we'll see a ninth justice before November.
Senate Republicans' Initial Refusal
Merrick Garland is a centrist candidate. He leans slightly right on criminal matters, slightly left on the environment, and remains entirely mainstream everywhere else. In a non-election, less-partisan year, he's the kind of candidate who wouldn't engender much strong opposition. But, of course, this isn't such a year.
When Garland was first nominated, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called him up. McConnell's message: congrats, but we're not going to act on your nomination, so don't bother coming around for perfunctory meetings.
Even Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said he would not meet with the nominee. (Senator Grassley had led the opposition to Garland's nomination to the D.C. Circuit, way back in 1995.)
Republicans Open Their Doors to Garland, Slowly
Just two weeks later, things are changing. We've already started to see some of the impacts of an imbalanced Supreme Court, including two deadlocked decisions. (And there's probably more on the way.) That puts increasing pressure on Republican opposition.
On Tuesday, Senator Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois became the first Republican to meet with Garland. "We should be doing our job," the Los Angeles Times reports him saying. "We need ... a rational, adult, open-minded consideration of the constitutional process."
Senator Kirk could be the first of many cracks in the Republican wall, at least if you believe reports from the White House. The Obama administration, which brought back some of its top election campaigners to put pressure on the Senate, says that it is slowly beating back Republican resistance.
Sixteen Republican senators, a quarter of the GOP caucus, now support meeting with Garland, according to NBC News. And most Americans support an immediate Congressional vote on Garland's nomination. Grassley is even facing tough questions from his constituents back home.
Of course, a meeting does not an appointment make. And it's unlikely that many voters will be swayed by the Senate nomination vote alone -- meaning that Republican senators can likely withstand public pressure for a while.
But, it is progress. If you're a gambler, you might want to start putting some money on Merrick.