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U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., met with federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, who had been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama. The Republican-controlled Senate did not allow a vote on the nomination. (Associated Press) U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., met with federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, who had been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama. The Republican-controlled Senate did not allow a vote on the nomination. (Associated Press)

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., met with federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, who had been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama. The Republican-controlled Senate did not allow a vote on the nomination. (Associated Press)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher September 13, 2018

Half Flip: Tammy Baldwin partially shifts position on how she considers U.S. Supreme Court nominees

In her effort to unseat U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in the Nov. 6, 2018 election,  Republican Leah Vukmir has repeatedly criticized Baldwin for her quick opposition to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and for not meeting with him.

That raises a question over whether Baldwin, a first-term Wisconsin Democrat, has been consistent on her consideration of Supreme Court nominees. During her tenure, one nomination was made by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and two were by Republican President Donald Trump.

With the Senate expected to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination before the end of September 2018, let’s go to the Flip-O-Meter to review how Baldwin has considered the three nominees.

1. Merrick Garland

March 2016: Obama nominated Garland, chief judge of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The same day, Baldwin praised Garland, saying he had "strong federal judicial experience." She said: "I now plan to do my job by reviewing Judge Garland’s experience and qualifications for our highest court. I also look forward to meeting with Judge Garland. I hope my Republican colleagues will do the same thing" and give him "fair consideration."

April 2016: Baldwin met with Garland, saying it "strengthened my conviction that this is a very well qualified and experienced judge who deserves a hearing and a vote."

January 2017: Garland’s nomination expired with the Republican-led Senate refusing to hold a confirmation hearing or vote -- leaving the seat open for Trump to fill.

So, Baldwin didn’t state a position on Garland’s nomination and she met with him, prior to any possibility of confirmation hearings being held.

And she made a point of saying those not of the same party as the president -- in this case, Republican senators -- should consider Garland’s full record, give it "fair consideration" and meet with him.

That would change with the next two nominees.

2. Neil Gorsuch

January 2017: Trump announced Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge in Colorado, as his nominee. The same day, Baldwin criticized the choice, saying Gorsuch had a "deeply troubling record. But she also said she would "fully review" the record, meet with Gorsuch and give his nomination "fair consideration."

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Two days later, however, Baldwin said she not only would vote against Gorsuch, she would filibuster the pick by forcing Republicans to meet a 60-vote threshold to confirm him. Baldwin said Gorsuch did not have a "mainstream record" and cited judicial rulings of his on cases involving disabled students, workers and women’s reproductive health.

February 2017: Baldwin met with Gorsuch and reiterated her plans to vote against him and to support a filibuster against his nomination.

The Senate held its confirmation hearing for Gorsuch the next month and he was confirmed by the Senate the following month. To overcome the filibuster, Republicans deployed the so-called nuclear option, voting to lower the threshold for advancing Supreme Court nominations from 60 votes to a simple majority.

So, as she did with Garland, Baldwin met with Gorsuch before his confirmation hearing  — but it’s hard to argue that the meeting was part of Baldwin giving "fair consideration" to Gorsuch, since she had already come out against him.

3. Brett Kavanaugh

July 2018: Trump nominated Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C. He would replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The same day, Baldwin said she would review his nomination with an eye toward women’s health and other issues. Three days later, Baldwin announced she would not support Kavanaugh, saying he was backed by "powerful special interests." Her statement did not make mention of whether she would meet with him.

August 2018: Baldwin reiterated her plans to vote against Kavanaugh, but said she plans to meet with him. She had not done so, however, before his confirmation hearing, which was held in early September 2018. Her campaign told us that Baldwin’s Senate office has reached out to the White House about a meeting but hasn’t received a response. However, other Democratic senators have met with Kavanaugh.

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Baldwin met with Garland, who was nominated by Obama, and urged GOP senators to consider his record and to meet with him. She didn’t announce a position on the nomination of Garland, who ultimately was denied a vote by the GOP-controlled Senate.

But with Gorsuch, who was nominated by Trump, Baldwin announced her opposition almost immediately -- lessening the value of meeting with him, in terms of giving his nomination consideration, though she did meet with him, prior to his confirmation hearing.

With Trump nominee Kavanaugh, Baldwin also announced her opposition almost immediately. She says she plans to meet with him, but no meeting occurred before his confirmation hearing.

Baldwin’s approach to how she considers Supreme Court nominees has varied in each of the three cases -- with a notable shift for those nominated by a Republican. For a partial change in position, we give her a Half Flip.

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Half Flip
On considering U.S. Supreme Court nominees.
In an interview
Sunday, August 5, 2018

Our Sources

Email, Tammy Baldwin campaign spokesman Bill Neidhardt, Sept. 10, 2018

Interview, White House spokesman Raj Shah, Sept. 11, 2018

Email, Leah Vukmir campaign spokesman Jahan Wilcox, Sept. 7, 2018

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Baldwin meets with Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Garland," April 13, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tammy Baldwin to oppose U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh," July 12, 2018

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Tammy Baldwin changes views on how quickly to act on a Supreme Court nomination," Feb. 22, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tammy Baldwin will vote no on Trump pick Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court," Feb. 2, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Sen. Baldwin meets Gorsuch, restates her opposition," Feb. 16, 2017

Capital Times, "Tammy Baldwin attempts to put single-payer health care price tag into context," Aug. 6, 2018

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, news release, March 16, 2016

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, news release, Jan. 31, 2017

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, news release, July 9, 2018

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, news release, July 12, 2018

Washington Free Beacon, "MSNBC Host Presses Baldwin on ‘Nakedly Political’ Decision to Oppose Kavanaugh Before Meeting Him," Aug. 17, 2018

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More by Tom Kertscher

Half Flip: Tammy Baldwin partially shifts position on how she considers U.S. Supreme Court nominees

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