Under the Dome

US Senate candidates Burr, Ross differ on Obama’s nomination to court

In this June 4, 2013 file photo, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.
In this June 4, 2013 file photo, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP

President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to succeed Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, and most Senate Republicans’ refusal to consider it during an election year, have become an issue in the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina.

“The American people deserve a voice in the nomination of the next Supreme Court justice,” U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, who was renominated by the Republicans in the North Carolina primary Tuesday, said in a statement urging that no nomination be considered this year.

“This appointment could easily tip the balance of the court in a direction not supported by the American people, as evidenced by 2014’s election results giving Republicans both the Senate and House.”

Burr’s statement was consistent with one he made Feb. 13 after Scalia died, when he said, “I believe the vacancy left open by Justice Scalia should not be filled until there is a new President.”

Deborah Ross, the Democratic nominee who will face Burr in November, countered on Thursday.

“The only thing clear about Senator Burr’s statement is that he has no problem ignoring his constitutional responsibilities,” Ross said in a fundraising email. “The Constitution says it’s the Senate’s job to give advice on the President’s nominee, but Burr and his fellow Republicans refuse even to hold a hearing.”

The state’s other U.S. senator, Republican Thom Tillis, also has weighed in.

“While President Obama is entitled to nominate an individual to the Supreme Court, the Senate has made it clear it will be exercising its Constitutional authority to withhold consent of the nomination,” Tillis said in a statement. “We are in the middle of a presidential election, and the Senate majority is giving the American people a voice to determine the direction of the Supreme Court. This is about the principle, not the person.”

Left-leaning Public Policy Polling, in its latest survey of opinion on the issue March 1-2, found that 55 percent of North Carolina voters favored filling Scalia’s seat this year, with 41 percent opposed.

Only a small number of the U.S. Senate’s 54 Republicans — most visibly Illinois’ Mark Kirk, who is up for re-election — have left the door open to considering an Obama nominee to the court.