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President Barack Obama decried a partisan and polarized system that has stymied the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in an address Thursday at the University of Chicago aimed at pressing the jurist's case.
"The process is so broken, so partisan that an eminently qualified jurist can’t even get a hearing," Obama told the gathering at the university's law school adding that the tenor of such political fighting threatens to seep into the judicial process and undermine public trust.
"Our democracy can't afford that," Obama said.
Since Garland's nomination, Obama, who taught constitutional law at the university for roughly a decade, has repeatedly outlined his arguments for why the judge should get a hearing. The Republican-dominated Senate has vowed not to even consider a nominee until after a new president is elected in November.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared unmoved earlier on Thursday.
"President Obama will fly to Chicago where he will try and convince Americans that despite his own actions while in the Senate to deny a Supreme Court nominee a vote, the constitution somehow now requires the Senate to have a vote on his nominee no matter what," McConnell said on the Senate floor.
"I'm sure he'll gloss over fact that the decision about filling this pivotal seat could impact our country for decades, that it could dramatically affect the most cherished constitutional rights like those contained in the First and Second amendments," McConnell continued. "I'm sure he'll continue to demand that Washington its spend time on one issue where we don't agree rather than working together on issues where we do."
But there have already been some defections from McConnell’s hard line against any consideration of Garland.
Several politically-endangered Republicans have already scheduled meetings with the nominee. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio will sit down with Garland next week.
Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican in the midst of a tough re-election battle, met with Garland last week. And Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters she was "more convinced than ever that the process should proceed" after meeting with Garland on Wednesday.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid continued to bash the rest of the Republicans for refusing to even meet with the respected judge.
"It's a little strange how we can have from the Republicans advice and consent when the vast majority of the Republicans won't even meet with the man," Reid said on the Senate floor on Thursday. "They refuse to hold a hearing and certainly not have a vote. So I don't know how one is reading the Constitution, but we need to do our job. We're not doing our job if we don't hold hearings and have a vote."
Garland, a 63-year-old Chicago native, is the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He is a moderate with roughly two decades of judicial experience.
Republicans have said their objections have less to do with Garland and more with what they see is Obama's attempt to influence the shape of the Supreme Court before leaving office. He would be filling the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died suddenly in February.
Also Thursday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said he and other Republicans opposed to hearings for Garland will not budge. The committee holds hearings on nominees, and then sends the nomination to the Senate for a vote.
"Our side knows and our side believes that what we are doing is right," Grassley said on the Senate floor. "And when that's the case, it's not hard to withstand the outrage or the pressure that they've manufactured."