By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Supporters of Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's U.S. Supreme Court selection, on Tuesday launched a new push to persuade the Republican-led Senate to act on the nomination before the Nov. 8 presidential election, but their calls fell on deaf ears.
With senators returning to work after a seven-week summer recess, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid called the refusal of Republicans to consider Garland's nomination "disgusting and repugnant."
"Republicans have deadlocked our entire system of justice because of the Republican Senate's dysfunction," Reid said.
Obama's nomination of the moderate appeals court judge has been pending without action for 174 days, longer than any other Supreme Court nominee in U.S. history.
The U.S. Constitution gives the Senate the job of confirming a president's judicial nominees. In a move with little precedent in American history, Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have refused to take any action on Obama's nominee, insisting that Obama's successor make the pick.
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"The Senate is returning from the longest recess in nearly half a century, and perhaps the Republican leadership was hoping that Americans had forgotten about the unprecedented obstruction of a Supreme Court nominee," said Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
We Need Nine, a White House-allied group, will hold a news conference in front of the Supreme Court building on Wednesday with Democratic senators and lawyers who previously worked as clerks for Garland.
Republicans sounded unconvinced.
McConnell "has been crystal clear for the last seven months," an aide to the senator said on Tuesday. "The next president will select the nominee."
The nine-seat court has been one justice short since the February death of long-serving conservative Antonin Scalia. With four liberals and four conservatives now on the bench, an appointment by a Democratic president could end decades of conservative domination on the court.
The White House has called Garland's confirmation a top priority for the legislative work period that began on Tuesday and ends in early October.
In remarks last month, Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley indicated he could be persuaded by a large number of senators to take action on Garland in a "lame duck" session immediately after the election. His panel would hold any confirmation hearings.
Some conservatives worry that if Democrat Hillary Clinton defeats Republican Donald Trump in the election, she would nominate someone more liberal than Garland.
But in a statement on Tuesday, Grassley reiterated that "the next president should choose Justice Scalia's replacement" and said his meetings with home-state voters during the recess "only bolstered the point that Iowans should have the opportunity to have a voice in the direction of the Supreme Court for the next 40 years."
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley. Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan)