Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 10, 2020.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday that he will hold a vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the vacancy left by the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
In a statement issued just over an hour after the Supreme Court said that Ginsburg had passed, McConnell said the nominee, who has not been named, “will receive a vote on the floor.”
McConnell’s pledge puts in motion what is likely to be a historic battle over the court in the heat of an already intense election year. The Supreme Court had a 5-4 majority of Republican appointed justices. A 6-3 majority could have a dramatic impact on the shape of the law on business and social issues for a generation to come.
Trump, battling against former Vice President Joe Biden ahead of November’s presidential election, is expected to move quickly to name a conservative replacement. The president didn’t comment much Friday night beyond telling reporters that Ginsburg “led an amazing life. She was an amazing woman.”
Biden, for his part, said that the focus in the coming days should be on Ginsburg’s legacy, but added that “the voters should pick a president.”
“This was the position of Republican Senate took in 2016. When they were almost 10 months to go before the election. That’s the position the United States Senate must take today, and election is only 46 days off,” Biden said.
McConnell’s statement marks a contrast to his position last election cycle, in which he refused to hold hearings for former President Barack Obama’s nominee, but is consistent with statements he has made since Trump was elected.
It came despite reports that Ginsburg told her family before she died that it was her “fervent wish” that she not be replaced until a new election is held.
The timing of Ginsburg’s death ensured that mourning in Washington would be combined with political calculations. The justice, who sat on the bench for 27 years and was the second woman confirmed to the top court, passed after suffering from pancreatic cancer just 46 days before Election Day.
Even before Ginsburg’s passing, Trump was seeking to win over conservatives with the promise of new justices who would be sympathetic on issues like gun rights and abortion. Earlier in September, Trump added 20 new names to his Supreme Court shortlist, including three GOP senators.
If Trump nominates a replacement for Ginsburg by Tuesday, and that nominee is confirmed before Election Day, it will mark the quickest period between nomination and confirmation since Ginsburg herself was appointed by former President Bill Clinton in 1993. On average, it takes about 70 days from the date of nomination to the confirmation vote, according to the Congressional Research Service.
McConnell defends against charges of hypocrisy
During the last election cycle, McConnell earned the ire of the left by refusing to hold hearings for former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
Obama nominated Garland after the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in Feb. 2016. Hours later, McConnell put out a statement saying that Scalia’s spot should not be filled until after the election took place.
The majority leader’s stance has brought charges of hypocrisy, but he has defended it on the grounds that the Senate and the White House are controlled by the same party in 2020, unlike 2016.
McConnell repeated that defense in his Friday statement.
“Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year,” he said.
“Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary,” McConnell wrote. “Once again, we will keep our promise,” he added.
The nomination will not be solely up to McConnell. The Republicans hold a 53-seat majority in the Senate, meaning the party can only tolerate three defections from its ranks, assuming every Democrat votes against a potential new nominee.
While Trump’s first nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, easily gained enough GOP support, Justice Brett Kavanaugh faced a tougher time, following sexual misconduct allegations which he denied.
One GOP senator who voted against Kavanaugh’s nomination, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has previously said that she opposed filling a hypothetical Ginsburg vacancy. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who voted for both of Trump’s nominees, has also in the past expressed opposition to filling a 2020 vacancy.
Grassley did not respond immediately to requests for comment on Friday evening, while Collins and Murkowski put out statements praising Ginsburg’s life but not indicating whether they would support a vote on a nominee ahead of November. Another moderate, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who was not in office when Kavanaugh was confirmed, did the same.
Collins voted to confirm Kavanaugh, but has said that she would not vote to confirm a justice in October, because of its proximity to the election.
One element that could shape the debate is Ginsburg’s own reported dying wish that she not be replaced before Inauguration Day. According to NPR, in the days before she died, Ginsburg uttered a statement to her granddaughter, Clara Spera.
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” Ginsburg said.
Read McConnell’s full statement:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following statement on the passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
The Senate and the nation mourn the sudden passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the conclusion of her extraordinary American life.
Justice Ginsburg overcame one personal challenge and professional barrier after another. She climbed from a modest Brooklyn upbringing to a seat on our nation’s highest court and into the pages of American history. Justice Ginsburg was thoroughly dedicated to the legal profession and to her 27 years of service on the Supreme Court. Her intelligence and determination earned her respect and admiration throughout the legal world, and indeed throughout the entire nation, which now grieves alongside her family, friends, and colleagues.
In the last midterm election before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president’s second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.
By contrast, Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. Once again, we will keep our promise.
President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.