Kirk: Obama Supreme Court nominee should get hearing


U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is congratulated after winning the Republican primary for Illinois’s U.S. Senate seat on Feb. 2, 2010, in Wheeling. (Lane Christiansen/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

By Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, who is seeking re-election, broke ranks with GOP leadership Monday, recognizing President Barack Obama’s right to advance a Supreme Court nominee but asking him to forward someone “who can bridge differences” for Senate approval.

Kirk, perhaps the most politically vulnerable of incumbent Republicans nationally this fall, had come under pressure from Democratic rivals vying for their party’s nomination to say if he agreed with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and others who have said Obama should not forward the name of a nominee for Senate approval in an election year.

“I recognize the right of the president, be it Republican or Democrat, to place before the Senate a nominee for the Supreme Court and I fully expect and look forward to President Barack Obama advancing a nominee for the Senate to consider,” Kirk wrote in an opinion piece for the Chicago Sun-Times.


“I also recognize my duty as a senator to either vote in support or opposition to that nominee following a fair and thorough hearing along with a complete and transparent release of all requested information,” the piece continued. “The Senate’s role in providing advice and consent is as important and significant as the president’s role in proposing a nominee.”

Shortly after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia this month, Kirk issued a statement calling political maneuvering over the vacancy “unseemly” and said the public should take time to honor Scalia’s life “before the inevitable debate erupts.”

Scalia’s funeral services were held over the weekend, and now Kirk is warning that “a partisan or extreme nominee would not be prudent nor would it provide a steady, scholarly hand to guide the constitutional ship of state.”

Instead, Kirk recounted Obama’s homecoming appearance this month in Springfield in which the Democratic president called for a “better politics.”

“My sincerest hope is that President Obama nominates someone who captures the sentiment he spoke about before the Illinois General Assembly this month — a nominee who can bridge differences, a nominee who finds common ground and a nominee who does not speak or act in the extreme,” Kirk wrote.

“Such a selection by the president would demonstrate a break from the rancor and partisanship of Washington and a real commitment to a new beginning even as his own term nears its end,” he wrote.

Kirk said he recognized Obama’s right to make a nomination in part after having served as a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Navy Reserve and as a senator in taking an oath to uphold the constitution. The oath, Kirk said, was to the constitution, “not to a party or any one individual, but to the ideals that bind our nation.”


Kirk has long sought to stress political moderation and bipartisanship, even before his 2010 election to the Senate, while serving a decade in the House representing the North Shore.

Some conservatives have never been enamored with Kirk, and he faces a primary challenge from a little-known candidate, James Marter, an information technology consultant from Oswego. Marter has said he supports a GOP block on any Obama court nominee.

Illinois has trended significantly Democratic in presidential election years, meaning Kirk could face strong headwinds in November. Three Democrats are vying for the nomination in the March 15 primary: two-term U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, of Hoffman Estates; former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp; and state Sen. Napoleon Harris, of Harvey.

Duckworth, who has largely focused her primary campaign by taking on Kirk rather than her rivals, said she welcomed the Republican’s decision but said he needs to do more.

“He should go a step further, however, and demand Sens. McConnell and [Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck] Grassley end their obstruction and hold hearings and allow a vote on a nominee,” Duckworth said in a statement. Grassley, of Iowa, has issued a variety of conflicting statements about the vacancy, including that the next president should choose the nominee.

Zopp, a former prosecutor, accused Kirk of “giving us cheap political talk, but not specifics.” In a statement, her campaign called on Kirk “to commit to voting to confirm any qualified nominee the president puts forward.”


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