As Republicans dig in their heels and declare they won’t hold confirmation hearings for any nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Obama, reports circulated Wednesday that GOP Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada is being vetted by the White House as one potential nominee aimed at overcoming their objections.
But that could prove difficult given that Sandoval, 52, who is described in reports as a centrist and moderate, supports marriage equality, transgender rights and a woman’s constitutional right to choose abortion. He was Nevada's first Hispanic federal judge and is a former state attorney general and state representative.
As ABC News reported, if nominated and confirmed to the high court, Sandoval would be the second Hispanic justice, after Bronx-born Latina Sonia Sotomayor.
When asked to comment directly on a report in the Washington Post that the administration was considering Sandoval, White House spokesman Josh Earnest would not comment specifically on the grounds that he did not want “to get into a rhythm of responding” every time a potential nominee’s name bubbled up in the news cycle. But he did say the president was looking for “the best person to fill the vacancy at the Supreme Court,” and that could be either a Democrat or a Republican.
“The president’s focused on criteria that, frankly, is more important, and that is that individual’s qualifications, and their experience and their view of the law,” said Earnest. “That will take precedence over any sort of political consideration.”
Sandoval’s record reveals him to be a moderate Republican who, as governor, signed a trans rights bill into law in 2011, publicly supported the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling and was outspoken about the rights of same-sex couples to be wed in Nevada, where many visitors to Las Vegas have tied the knot.
It may not matter if Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee hold fast to their vow on Tuesday to not hold a hearing or vote on any Supreme Court nominee selected by Obama. Their stance is that the nomination should be left to the next president who wouldn’t even take office until January.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell emailed ABC News to say even a GOP nominee like Sandoval makes no difference to Senate Republicans: “The Leader didn’t say the Senate would act ‘if’ it was a certain type of nominee. He said the Senate wasn’t going to act until the next president made the nomination,” wrote McConnell spokesman Don Stewart in the email.
A Democratic source with knowledge of the process told ABC News Sandoval’s name came from a list submitted to the White House by Nevada’s own Harry Reid, and that the Senate Minority Leader met with Sandoval on Monday since he was in town for a governors conference.
“He said he was interested,” a source told The New York Times, adding that “a number of people are being checked out” for the job.
“Neither Gov. Sandoval nor his staff have been contacted by or talked to the Obama administration regarding any potential vetting for the vacancy on theU.S. Supreme Court,” said a spokeswoman for Sandoval, according to ABC News. But she declined to say if someone else, such as Sen. Reid, might have acted on the administration’s behalf.