Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is not breaking ranks with his party this time.
He signaled Tuesday that he will support allowing a vote before the election on whether to confirm a nominee by President Donald Trump to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
Romney noted that four years ago, Republicans refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland, nominated by President Barack Obama, to the high court. Romney said he decided to look beyond fairness to what the Constitution and precedent say should happen.
“My decision regarding a Supreme Court nomination is not the result of a subjective test of ‘fairness’ which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder,” he wrote.
“It is based on the immutable fairness of following the law, which in this case is the Constitution and precedent. The historical precedent of election year nominations is that the Senate generally does not confirm an opposing party’s nominee but does confirm a nominee of its own.”
And Republicans are in position to support their own nominee this year.
Romney did not guarantee that he will vote for the upcoming nominee and said that will depend on her qualifications. (Trump has said that he intends to nominate a woman and will make the announcement Saturday).
“The Constitution gives the president the power to nominate and the Senate the authority to provide advice and consent on Supreme Court nominees,” he said. “Accordingly, I intend to follow the Constitution and precedent in considering the president’s nominee. If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications.”
He outlined what he hopes to see in a nominee to reporters.
“I would like to see a person who reflects the values of Utah and the nation," the senator said, “an individual of unquestioned scholarship and intellectual capacity, and an individual who believes in following the law as it is written and the Constitution as it was written.”
He added that he would prefer a person with those qualifications to someone who acts while "sort of looking into the sky and pulling out ideas that they think may be more appropriate than either the law or the Constitution.”
Romney noted that he realizes the court is about to shift to the right, which he said is good.
“I recognize that we may have a court which has more of a conservative bent than it’s had over the last few decades. But my liberal friends have over many decades gotten very used to the idea of having a liberal court, and that’s not written in the stars,” he said.
“It’s also appropriate for a nation, which is, if you will, center right to have a court which reflects a center-right point of view."
Romney also told reporters he believes what happened to Garland four years ago was fair, and so is continuing prior precedent.
“I can tell you that I don’t think it was unfair or an unprecedented action," he said. But he added, “I can’t tell you whether or not I would have supported it at the time. I was not a senator at the time."
Romney’s stance was closely watched in Washington because at one point, he was seen as a key to whether enough Republicans might defect to prevent a quick vote on a nominee before the election.
Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning they can afford just three defections and still be able to confirm a replacement for Ginsberg, who died Friday (with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tiebreaking vote).
Earlier, two Republican senators broke ranks: Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski.
Three others GOP senators were seen as possible defectors: Romney, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Charles Grassley of Iowa. On Monday, Gardner and Grassley issued statements saying they will support quick action on a Trump nominee. Romney followed suit Tuesday.
That seems to ensure Trump’s nominee will receive a confirmation hearing and vote. Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said it shows hypocrisy by Republicans to consider a GOP nominee in an election year but not a Democrat. He vowed retribution if Democrats win control of the Senate in this election.
Romney had been seen as a possible defector because he was the only Republican to vote to remove Trump during the Senate impeachment trial, and he has been a vocal critic of the president’s foreign policy and his inflammatory tweets and remarks — which often have been aimed at Romney himself.
For example, Trump said at a rally earlier this month that Romney is “our worst senator,” and “couldn’t be elected dogcatcher in Utah right now.”
Romney said Tuesday that he had “a lot of communication from my friends and donors and even family” pressuring him on the decision. He said he talked to both Democratic and Republican senators. He said a heavy volume of calls to his office on the topic was about evenly split on how Utahns wanted him to act.
In the end, he said, he chose simply what he thought was best.
“I know that some Republicans are not happy with the vote I took on the impeachment of the president, and some Democrats will not be happy with the vote I intend to take with regards to a nominee,” he said. “But I try to do what is right and within the law and consistent with my oath of office. ... That’s how I can live with these difficult decisions.”
He latest action also disappoints the United Utah Party, which sees itself as a middle ground group between Republicans and Democrats.
It complained in a statement that Romney “relies on naked partisanship to justify his decision. This simply escalates the growing trend to make party the primary consideration in Supreme Court confirmations, which defies historical precedent for how such nominations have been considered over the past century.”
Editor’s note • Tuesday, Sept. 22, 1:47 pm. — This story was updated to add a comment from the United Utah Party.