Johnny Isakson's changing view of judicial nominees

Hours after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson lined up with his Republican colleagues who said the Senate should wait until after the election to confirm a successor.

“The American people are going to the polls to vote in November to pick the next president and I think the next president ought to be the one to fill that vacancy and not the president who’s going out,” Isakson told us on Feb. 13.

It’s a different message from the one Isakson had in April 2005, when the then-new senator said in a floor speech that “every judge ought to get an up-or-down vote”:

“The question is simple and our responsibility is clear, and every judge nominated by this President, or any president, deserves an up-or-down vote, one way or another. It is the responsibility of the Senate. It is the direction of the Constitution.”

Watch the speech below courtesy of C-SPAN:


Isakson at the time was speaking about Senate Democrats, who had been filibustering a series of judicial nominees from President George W. Bush, who had recently been sworn into a second term in office.

Senators from both parties eventually struck an agreement over the nominations in order to avoid the use of the now-infamous "nuclear option." Fast-forward more than 11 years and the stakes are a lot higher.

Democrats went forward with the nuclear option in 2013, injecting more bad blood into the chamber. And Isakson is running for a third term during a high-stakes presidential election year that's put the Supreme Court fight front and center given the court’s divisions over red meat issues such as abortion, voting rights and immigration.

Isakson has joined with many of his GOP colleagues, including fellow Georgian David Perdue, in refusing to meet with Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee to replace Scalia. Senate Republican leaders argue that by choosing to not act on the nominee before the election, they are performing their constitutionally-mandated duty of ‘advise and consent.’

Democrats say that’s bogus and have tried to keep the pressure on the GOP for playing politics over a nominee who many Republicans say is well-qualified. Isakson's challenger Jim Barksdale has added his voice to the fight, criticizing Isakson for “putting partisanship first” regarding judicial nominees.

Trey Kilpatrick, Isakson’s campaign manager, said the Republican “takes his responsibilities of advice and consent seriously”:

"It's noteworthy that Jim Barksdale has not discussed any of the substantive issues that are at stake for the next Supreme Court justice. There is a reason why the Senate hasn't acted on a Supreme Court vacancy arising during a presidential election year since 1932.”

This fight almost certainly won’t be resolved before the election, so Isakson may have more questions to answer during the remaining seven weeks of the campaign.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...