Nevada gov withdraws from high court vacancy

  • By MICHELLE RINDELS and MARY CLARE JALONICK
  • Friday, February 26, 2016 1:04am
  • NewsNation-World

LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said Thursday he is not interested in being considered for the Supreme Court vacancy — a decision that foils one route President Barack Obama might have had to breach Senate Republicans’ planned blockade of any election-year confirmation.

Sandoval, a Republican and the state’s first Hispanic governor, issued a statement the day after news broke that the White House was considering him as a potential replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

“Earlier today, I notified the White House that I do not wish to be considered at this time for possible nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States,” wrote Sandoval, an abortion rights supporter and former federal judge. “The notion of being considered for a seat on the highest court in the land is beyond humbling, and I am incredibly grateful to have been mentioned.”

He offered no reason for his decision but said he also expressed his position to senators Harry Reid, Dean Heller and Mitch McConnell.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment, saying he would not offer detailed updates on the president’s short list.

The Senate’s vetting process for any nominee is expected to be viciously political, if hearings take place at all. Regardless of which nominee Obama settles on, “this nomination will be determined by whoever wins the presidency in the fall,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Recommending a popular, moderate Republican would test the unified GOP caucus’s insistence that voters in November and the next president should make the lifetime appointment.

Democrats have tried to keep a daily focus on the issue. On Thursday, about two dozen Democratic senators stood outside the Supreme Court and called on Republicans to consider an Obama nominee.

“We have obstruction that is on steroids,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Earnest said Obama is still reviewing material on potential candidates and consulting with lawmakers. The White House has contacted the office of every Senate Judiciary Committee member, he said.

Earnest said the president plans to host a meeting Tuesday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the judiciary panel.

Criticism of Sandoval emerged from both sides of the aisle in the 24 hours after his name was mentioned. Liberal groups took issue with his positions on abortion, which he described during his 2010 race as pro-choice but against late-term abortion and federal funding on abortion.

“Sandoval’s checkered history on reproductive freedom should raise some serious flags — it certainly has for us,” NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement.

Sandoval’s critics at home have more often come from the right than the left. In November 2012, he became the first Republican governor to expand Medicaid as part of Obama’s health care law, drawing criticism from conservative members of his party.

Sandoval has raised taxes and declined to join state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican, in a federal lawsuit challenging U.S. regulations that protect the sage grouse. He has argued that negotiations with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others in the Obama administration offer a better chance of easing land-use restrictions for Nevada ranchers, miners and others than a court battle.

He is limited to two terms as governor and is set to leave office in early 2019. He announced last year that he will not run for Reid’s seat in November. Reid is retiring, and Sandoval would have been a strong favorite.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., last week mused that the next justice could be a Nevadan. He said Thursday he hopes Sandoval’s name will come up again in the future.

“As a friend and former colleague of Governor Sandoval’s, I believe he is eminently qualified for this position,” Heller said.

Sandoval’s consideration was first reported by The Washington Post.

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Jalonick reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Kathleen Hennessy in Washington and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that Catherine Cortez Masto is a former Nevada attorney general.

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