The battle to fill the new vacancy on the Supreme Court is already underway.
That evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would seek to restore the body to full strength, assuring in a news release of his own that “President [Donald] Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
The Kentucky Republican was not neglectful in honoring Ginsburg as a “dedicated” legal professional who “overcame one personal challenge and professional barrier after another” in rising “from a modest Brooklyn upbringing to a seat on our nation’s highest court” throughout a 40-year federal judiciary career.
The Senate and the nation mourn the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the conclusion of her extraordinary American life.
My full statement: pic.twitter.com/NOwYLhDxIk
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) September 19, 2020
“In the last midterm election before Justice [Antonin] 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,” McConnell said. “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,” the Senate majority leader added.
“Once again, we will keep our promise.”
The statement would score him no points in the public eye, with numerous establishment media pundits and Democratic politicians suggesting the process should be delayed until after the election.
Some admonished the play on principle, calling the decision hypocritical given McConnell’s successful, and highly controversial, effort to stonewall the 2016 Supreme Court nomination of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland by President Barack Obama, who was not eligible for re-election.
Senators Collins, Graham, Grassley, and Murkowski are on record as of 2018 that no Justice should be confirmed this close to a presidential election. Senator Romney should join them. Leader McConnell’s monumental hypocrisy cannot be allowed to prevail.
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) September 19, 2020
Regardless, it would seem the Senate will proceed with efforts to fill the vacancy under McConnell’s leadership, should Trump forward a nomination, which he has signaled he will do.
The federal judiciary has come to be known as something of a legacy issue for McConnell, who has seen at least 200 Trump-nominated judicial nominees confirmed as of June 24, according to another of the senator’s news releases.
Trump has filled two Supreme Court vacancies, 53 circuit court vacancies and 143 district court vacancies, and at the time of McConnell’s June statement, the circuit court system had experienced its first moment at full manpower in roughly 40 years.
According to The Washington Post, 25 percent of federal circuit court judges nationwide were Trump-nominated as of December 2019.
McConnell’s confirmation numbers have only been inflated since, with Salon reporting the Senate majority leader had seen another six Trump nominees confirmed to the federal bench in the span of just 30 hours earlier this week.
Potential candidates from previous lists include circuit court judges Britt Grant and prominent pro-life contender Amy Coney Barrett, who was considered for the vacated seat of former centrist Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018.
A simple majority vote remains the standard for Senate confirmation in light of 2013 Democratic efforts to restrict the filibustering of most presidential nominees, as well as 2017 Republican efforts to extend the same standard to Supreme Court nominees.
Given the 53-47 Republican Senate majority, confirmation of Trump’s forthcoming nominee is well within reach — but it would seem no shortage of lobbying and horse trading will be required, as was the case with the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh just two years ago.
Several GOP senators up for re-election will likely face external pressure in the event of a confirmation bout, as they’re already fighting for their political lives in hotly contested re-election battles.
Trump-critical members of the GOP establishment have also become a point of media focus in the hours following Ginsburg’s death, with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski telling Alaska Public Media prior to the announcement of the justice’s passing that she would “not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee” prior to the election.
Susan Collins says she will not vote to confirm a replacement.
— Alex Mohajer (@AlexMohajer) September 19, 2020
One report alleged claimed Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah had decided against supporting Trump administration efforts to replace the progressive icon until after Inauguration Day 2021, though his communications director, Liz Johnson, called the report “grossly false.”
— Liz Johnson (@LJ0hnson) September 19, 2020
Previous public remarks regarding the replacement of Supreme Court justices during an election year also leave the votes of several other GOP senators, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, up in the air.
Trump, for his part, focused on Ginsburg’s accomplishments when notified of her death at a campaign stop in Minnesota.
“Just died?” Trump said when told about her passing. “I didn’t know that. I just — you’re telling me now for the first time.
“She led an amazing life,” he said. “What else can you say? She was an amazing woman, whether you agree or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. I’m actually sad to hear that. I am sad to hear that.”
Seemingly unaware of Ginsburg’s passing at an in-state rally earlier in the evening, however, Trump lauded recent additions to his list of potential nominees.
“I even said I’m putting Ted Cruz as one of the people for the Supreme Court. You know why I did it?” Trump asked the audience. “Because I wanted to make sure I had somebody on the list. We had about 45 unbelievable people; the smartest, the best, the absolute creme de la creme.
“The best minds in the country. Conservative,” he added. “They believe in the Constitution. Little things like that.”
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