Drawing outrage from many sides, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee decided in a closed door meeting on Tuesday afternoon to deny hearings or a vote on a Supreme Court nominee in 2016.
"This committee will not hold hearings on any Supreme Court nominee until after our next president is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2017," committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and the other 10 Republican members said in a letter (pdf) Tuesday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"That's the consensus view...No hearing, no vote," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters as he left the meeting that took place in McConnell's office.
Graham told CNN separately "he would not even meet with any nominee, should he or she make courtesy calls" on Capitol Hill.
The death of Justice Antonin Scalia, which left the nation's highest court evenly split, has spurred a heated debate over whether President Barack Obama should appoint a replacement or wait for the next administration to make a decision.
"Presidents have a right to nominate just as the Senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent. In this case, the Senate will withhold it," McConnell said Tuesday morning on the Senate floor. "The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter after the American people finish making in November the decision they've already started making today."
Justifying their position, several members of the committee cited then-Sen. Joe Biden's 1992 remarks, in which he said the panel ought to "seriously consider" not holding hearings on a nominee for an election-year vacancy. Biden has argued that the GOP is taking his statement out of context.
The committee's decision drew withering criticism from inside and outside Congress.
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"Republicans flat out saying they will deny any nominee a hearing or a vote before the nominee is even named is an unprecedented move and a complete dereliction of their constitutional duty," said Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org. "It is a shameful new low for a majority that has time and time again put party before country. Republicans need to stop their obstruction and do their job."
"The party of Lincoln is becoming the party of Donald Trump," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) added, predicting that Grassley would "go down in history as the most obstructionist Judiciary chair" for blocking a hearing.
Other groups and individuals tweeted along similar lines under the hashtag #DoYourJob.
Meanwhile, CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller tweeted that the administration is "not taking Judiciary Committee Republicans as final word against hearing on Pres Obama's SCOTUS nominee," pointing to at least four Senate Republicans who support a hearing: Mark Kirk (Ill.), Susan Collins (Maine), Roy Blunt (Mo.), and Dan Coats (Ind.).
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that such actions would subject the Supreme Court to a kind of politics it hasn’t encountered in two centuries.
"This would be a historic and unprecedented acceleration of politicizing a branch of government that’s supposed to be separated from politics," Earnest told reporters. Obama has been telephoning senators to discuss the matter, including some Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, and he will continue making calls, the spokesman said.
A poll released Monday showed that the majority of Americans say the Senate should hold hearings and vote on Obama's choice to fill the vacancy.