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Opinion: Snub of Garland could cost GOP the Jewish swing vote

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. (right) is shown last year with Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’'s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Garland. | J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Did Barack Obama intentionally lay a religious trap for the GOP by nominating Merrick Garland, a highly respected Jewish judge, for the Supreme Court?

He not only named an impeccably credentialed moderate to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat — one who previously garnered substantial Republican support — but he puts the GOP in the position of disrespecting a prominent Jewish nominee by not meeting or giving him a hearing.

OPINION

A lawyer friend asks, how will Jewish swing voters and Republican donors take this? Could it prove costly in November?

The Republican Party has been feverishly courting Jewish voters and, of course, big-money donors — chipping away at their once near unanimous support for Democrats. Jewish support for Democratic presidential candidates has been as high as 92 percent, while in recent elections Republicans claim to have received as much as 30 percent, though some doubt it’s been quite that high.

That’s a lot of tussling over a mere 2.1 percent of the population, but Jews tend to vote in proportionately higher numbers and are centered in important swing states such as Florida and Maryland, in addition to population centers such as New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, New Jersey and Illinois. As a group they are economically generous, politically active and tend to win offices disproportionate to their actual population. Example: there are 10 Jewish senators out of 100 in office — and there have been as many as 13 in recent years.

We think of them generally as liberals — all the senators and 18 of the 19 House members are Democrats or progressive independents. However, some of the most influential voices in conservatism also are Jewish, such as Henry Kissinger, commentator William Kristol, whose father Irving was a founder of neo-conservatism, and columnist Charles Krauthammer. George W. Bush’s dominant crew of neo-cons was larded with Jewish names.

Apart from the Gentile Koch brothers, some of the biggest Republican donors are Jewish, including Sheldon Adelson, Chicago’s Sam Zell and Las Vegas hotelier Steve Wynn among many lesser known Jewish names.

Which brings us to the Supreme Court: three of the eight justices are Jewish while the other five are Catholic, as was the late Scalia. Bill Clinton nominated two Jewish justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Obama nominated Elena Kagan, who is Jewish and Sonia Sotomayor, a Catholic. The political balance is four relatively consistent liberals and four conservatives, two of whom occasionally surprise with moderate or even liberal votes.

Moderate as Garland may be — he once supported an aspect of Citizens United — he would clearly align with the liberal bloc on most issues, changing the political balance of the court for the first time in decades.

I don’t expect hard-line, right-wing supporters of Israel, such as Adelson — whose real issue is outlawing online gambling to protect his own businesses — to give a damn about how a Jewish moderate is treated by Mitch McConnell & Co. But it’s quite possible there will be considerable sensitivity farther down the ranks of Jewish swing voters and donors if a Jewish nominee is dissed by the GOP by not even getting the courtesy of meetings and a hearing.

Don Rose is an independent political consultant.

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