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White House Defends Garland Against Sanders Litmus Test

Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland walks with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House on March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The White House today was defending the credentials of their pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said during Thursday’s presidential debate that he’d scrap Merrick Garland for a more litmus-tested jurist.

Hillary Clinton backed President Obama’s selection during the CNN event in Brooklyn, maintaining “we need to get the Supreme Court justice that President Obama has nominated to be confirmed so that we can actually continue to make progress.”

Sanders objected to Senate Republicans’ vow to not hold a vote on Garland’s nomination, saying “a third-grader in America understands the president of the United States has the right to nominate individuals to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“Obviously I will strongly support that nomination as a member of the Senate. But, if elected president, I would ask the president to withdraw that nomination because I think — I think this,” Sanders said. “I think that we need a Supreme Court justice who will make it crystal clear, and this nominee has not yet done that, crystal clear that he or she will vote to overturn Citizens United and make sure that American democracy is not undermined.”

Clinton interjected: “You know, there is no doubt that the only people that I would ever appoint to the Supreme Court are people who believe that Roe V. Wade is settled law and Citizens United needs to be overturned.”

Today at the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest argued that Obama “understands that the responsibility of a judge is to interpret the law, not advance a political agenda.”

“As we also discussed, the president did not have a specific discussion with potential nominees about how they would rule in particular cases. That raises some questions about a conflict, because obviously, there are some cases where the executive branch, represented by the solicitor general before the Supreme Court advocates for a particular position,” he said. “Rather, what the president has chosen to do is to consider the jurisprudence of individual nominees.”

Reiterating Garland’s experience up to his current position as chief judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Earnest said “there is an opportunity to consider his approach to the law, and the president believe that his approach to the law is consistent with what our — the framers of our Constitution intended.”

“I don’t know how — what that means for how he might rule in a hypothetical case at some point in the future. But I do know that the president is — has complete confidence that Chief Judge Garland would do what Supreme Court justices are supposed to do, which is interpret the law, not seek to advance a political agenda,” he added.

“And that is why the president nominated him in the first place; that’s why we’ve been pleased to see Republicans indicate — at least in their private conversations with Chief Judge Garland that they are impressed with his credentials, with his character and with his approach to this job.”