Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., singled out labor unions while talking about the need to confirm President Obama's nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
"I would hope that everyone within the sound of my voice understands how important this is," Reid said Friday during a press conference at the UNLV Law School, per a transcript released by his office. "Danny [Thompson, AFL-CIO], for you, decisions are being made every day that affect the 220,000 people that you represent every day."
Scalia's death gives President Obama an opportunity to replace a leading conservative jurist, which would create a 5-4 liberal majority on the court. Legal analysts say that his choice, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland, sides consistently in favor of unions.
Reid proceeded to explain that the court needs a full complement of justices because a 4-4 tie can't overturn lower court rulings resolve disagreements between circuit courts. "If it's deadlocked 4 to 4 then those circuits are still in confusion and there is no precedent set," he said.
Unions stand to benefit from that fact in the short-term. A California elementary school teacher filed a lawsuit challenging the requirement that nonunion public employees be required to pay "agency fees" to the union. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled against her, but the Supreme Court heard oral arguments over the case in January. If the justices split 4-4, then the lower court ruling will stand; the teacher's lawyers have asked the court to rehear the case once the ninth justice is confirmed.
Senate Republicans have vowed to block the nomination until the "next president" takes office, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
Reid declared McConnell's position "dumb advice" for GOP senators and brushed off a reminder that he said the Senate didn't have "a duty to give presidential nominees a vote" — a comment made in 2005, when George W. Bush was president. "You can go back and purge the Congressional record and people say a lot of things," he said. "[A]ctions speak louder than words. We have never held up a Supreme Court Justice. Period. Keep in mind even when they don't get enough votes in committee we bring them to the floor."
The Democratic leader also predicted that Republicans would cave and confirm Garland in the lame-duck session of Congress, following the November elections. "I've said all along that Garland will go on the Supreme Court," he said. "I think it's foolish that they want to wait till the lame duck, but after Clinton's elected, I think they're going to be faced with a reality that maybe we should take this more moderate judge than somebody that Hillary Clinton would give us."