The vice president dismissed the so-called "Biden Rule" on judicial nominee hearings during election years Thursday and insisted that President Barack Obama's pick for the Supreme Court should get a Senate hearing.
"It's frankly ridiculous…there is no Biden Rule," Vice President Joe Biden said in a speech at the Georgetown University Law Center.
Biden said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership has been "quoting selectively" from a speech he made in 1992 about Supreme Court nominations during an election year to justify their refusal to even consider Judge Merrick Garland — President Barack Obama's nominee to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
"They completely ignore the fact at the time I was speaking of the time of the dangers of nominating an extreme candidate without proper senate consultation," he said. "I made it absolutely clear I would go forward with the confirmation process as chairman, even a few months ahead of a presidential election."
There was no immediate response from McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, who has said that for Obama to nominate Garland in the midst of a heated presidential campaign was unfair to the American people and it should be up to the next president to decide who will replace Scalia. He also came up with the term "Biden Rule."
But Andrea Bozek, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Biden's argument an "exercise in blatant hypocrisy."
"Their goal is clear: They want to ram Barack Obama's liberal nominee through the process in order to reshape the Supreme Court for a generation," she said in a statement. "And they want to do it without hearing from voters."
Biden said his words, which were uttered while President George H.W. Bush was running for reelection, have been taken out of context. He said he was bemoaning the politicization of the Supreme Court nomination process — and that every nominee put forward by Bush "got a committee hearing."
"I was responsible for eight nominees to the Supreme Court," Biden said. "Some I supported, others I voted against."
Biden pointed out that President Ronald Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court in 1987 while he was running for reelection and he "got an up and down vote by the Senate."
Kennedy joined the Supreme Court in February 1988 and has since become the swing vote on some of the most controversial decisions that have come before the nation's highest court.
"The President has fully discharged his constitutional obligation," Biden said. "Now it is up to the Senate to do the same, as all Americans expect them to do. They owe it to the American people to consider his nomination and to give him an up or down vote."
Biden also sounded a warning about the potential impact of partisan standoffs.
"At times like these, we need more than ever to have a fully functioning Supreme Court, a Court that can resolve divisive issues peacefully,' Biden said. "Dysfunction and partisanship are bad enough on Capitol Hill....But we can't let the Senate spread this dysfunction to the Supreme Court of the United States."
Scalia himself warned of the dangers of a leaving the Supreme Court shorthanded, BIden said.
"The longer this high court vacancy remains unfilled, the more serious a problem we will face — problem compounded by turbulence, confusion and uncertainty about our safety and security, our liberty and privacy, the future of our children and grandchildren," Biden said. "At times like these, we need more than ever to have a fully functioning Supreme Court, a court that can resolve divisive issues peacefully."
If the Supremes deadlock 4-4, it means the nation's highest court effectively holds up a lower court's ruling and "we end up with a patchwork" of federal laws, Biden said.
"Federal laws that apply to the entire country will be constitutional in some parts of the country and unconstitutional in others," Biden said.
Biden also cited polling data which he said shows "the American people" expect the Senate to at least consider Garland's nomination.
Failure to do so, Biden warned, could lead to a "genuine constitutional crisis."
"I've never seen it like this," he said. "Washington, right now, the Congress is dysfunctional and they're undermining the norms we use to govern ourselves."