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Sen. Mark Kirk to meet with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Tuesday

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. | M. Spencer Green/AP file photo

WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill, will become the first GOP Senator to meet with President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee when he talks with Merrick Garland on Tuesday, a source told the Sun-Times.

Kirk’s meeting with Garland, a Chicago native raised in Lincolnwood, comes as Senate Republican leaders are steadfastly refusing to consider Obama’s replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia, who died at a West Texas resort on Feb. 13.

Obama tapped Garland on March 16. Garland, a federal appellate judge on the Washington, D.C. circuit, has met only with Democratic senators so far.

As the Obama White House and allied Democratic groups are organizing to pressure Republicans – especially vulnerable incumbents such as Kirk – about 15 Senate Republicans have agreed to meet with Garland.

Kirk is in a tough re-election match with Rep. Tammy Duckworth D-Ill.

Three GOP Senators — Kirk, Susan Collins of Maine and Jerry Moran of Kansas — and have said Garland should have a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

I’ve written that if it ever comes to a Senate vote, Kirk will be a yes for Garland, a 1970 graduate of Niles West High School in Skokie. I’m not sure about Collins – who has been keeping an open mind on the subject – and Moran already said he is a no vote, even though he is for a hearing.

Moran said in a statement he is opposed to Obama’s “attempt to put another liberal judge on the Supreme Court” but wants a hearing because “I believe I have a duty to ask tough questions and demand answers. I am certain a thorough investigation would expose Judge Garland’s record and judicial philosophy, and disqualify him in the eyes of Kansans and Americans.”

A Kirk source told me that one of the items Kirk wants to discuss with Garland is his views on gangs – one of Kirk’s big issues – and the rights of terrorists, especially in the context of Obama’s renewed push to close the Guantanamo military detention facility in Cuba.

When asked if Kirk’s move cracks the door open for GOP movement in the Senate, a White House official told the Sun-Times, “I think it means there are a growing number of Republican who think the Senate ought to do its job.”

Kirk’s break with his GOP Senate leadership over meeting with Garland comes as no surprise.

Last week, in an interview with Chicago’s WLS-AM, Kirk called on Republicans to “man up and cast a vote” because “the president has already laid out a nominee.”

And in a Feb. 22 op-ed in the Sun-Times, Kirk wrote, “I recognize the right of the president, be it Republican or Democrat, to place before the Senate a nominee for the Supreme Court and I fully expect and look forward to President Obama advancing a nominee for the Senate to consider.

“I also recognize my duty as a Senator to either vote in support or opposition to that nominee following a fair and thorough hearing along with a complete and transparent release of all requested information.”

On Monday, Garland is scheduled to meet with Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Ben Cardin of Maryland, with other senators, including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. in the pipeline.

Judge Merrick B. Garland speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House after being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Judge Merrick B. Garland speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House after being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images