Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said Thursday he was "incredibly grateful" to be mentioned in the conversation over who President Obama would possibly select to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, but that he does "not wish to be considered at this time" for a spot on the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Earlier today, I notified the White House that I do not wish to be considered at this time for possible nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States," Sandoval said in a statement.
Earlier, reports surfaced that Obama was considering appointing Sandoval, a moderate Republican, to the Supreme Court despite leaders in the Republican-led Senate holding firm to their threat to block anyone Obama nominates.
As governor, Sandoval has taken a traditional Republican stance in support of gun rights, but his more moderate views on social issues, such as abortion rights, could make him an attractive choice for the Democratic president.
A 52-year-old Mexican-American, Sandoval was appointed a judge by Republican George W. Bush, Obama's immediate predecessor, before being elected governor in 2010. He abandoned his state's legal defense of a same-sex-marriage ban before the Supreme Court declared such bans unconstitutional last year.
The Feb. 13 death of long-serving conservative Justice Scalia created a vacancy on the nine-seat high court and ignited a political fight. Republicans are maneuvering to foil Obama's ability to choose a replacement who could tilt the court to the left for the first time in decades. Scalia's death left the court with four liberals and four conservatives.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday the Senate will not hold hearings or vote on any Supreme Court nominee until the next president takes office in January 2017. Republicans hope to win back the White House in the Nov. 8 election.
The Senate must confirm any high court nominee. McConnell remained unswayed, even after getting word that Obama was considering Sandoval for the job. "This nomination will be determined by whoever wins the presidency in the fall," McConnell said.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which conducts confirmation hearings for judicial nominations, concurred, saying, "It's the principle, not the person."
The White House said it was hoping for a meeting with Grassley and his committee's top Democrat, Patrick Leahy. A McConnell aide said the majority leader was trying to schedule a meeting with Obama to reiterate his opposition to any nominee.
Sandoval met in the Capitol on Monday for about 30 minutes with Senate Democratic leader and close Obama ally Harry Reid of Nevada, and Reid asked Sandoval whether he would be interested in being considered for the high court, according to the source, who asked not to be identified discussing a confidential matter.
White House officials are seeking a candidate they think lawmakers from both parties could support, but Obama may be unlikely to choose any Republican, even a centrist. The Democratic political base would object to such a choice — a risk Obama is unlikely to take during an election year.
Some liberal groups expressed alarm that Sandoval would be considered. Charles Chamberlain of Democracy for America called it "downright absurd" that Obama would risk his legacy by appointing "another anti-labor Republican" to an already pro–Big Business Supreme Court.
Sandoval opposed Obama's signature health care law but opted to expand his state's Medicaid health insurance program for the poor under the measure, breaking from a number of Republican governors who refused to do so.
He expressed support for bipartisan immigration legislation that passed the Senate in 2013 before dying in the House of Representatives amid Republican opposition. that year, he vetoed legislation to require background checks on all Nevada gun sales. Last year he signed a law backed by the National Rifle Association that expanded the defenses for justifiable homicide and repealed a local ordinance that required handgun registration.
Obama vowed on Wednesday to move ahead with a nominee and said Republicans would risk incurring public ire if they block a qualified candidate because of political motives, as well as diminishing the credibility of the high court.
He said he expected the Senate Judiciary Committee to extend his nominee the courtesy of a confirmation hearing and then vote on whether he or she is qualified.
"In the meantime, the American people are going to have the ability to gauge whether the person I've nominated is well within the mainstream, is a good jurist, is somebody who's worthy to sit on the Supreme Court," Obama told reporters in the Oval Office.
"I think it will be very difficult for Mr. McConnell to explain how, if the public concludes that this person's very well qualified, that the Senate should stand in the way simply for political reasons."
Liberals vowed to pressure Senate Republicans into considering Obama's nominee, with several groups delivering to the Senate boxes of what they said contained 1.3 million signatures from citizens demanding that a confirmation process go forward after the president announces his pick.
Al Jazeera and Reuters