"We will keep our promise," vowed McConnell

By Virginia Chamlee
September 18, 2020 11:54 PM
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Mitch McConnell, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
| Credit: Getty IMages (2)

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell vowed that the Senate will vote on a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died at her home on Friday due to complications of metastatic cancer, just hours after the news was publicly announced.

"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," said McConnell, 78, in a statement on the passing of the 87-year-old Supreme Court Justice. "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 statement continued.

"Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate."

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
| Credit: Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

In his own statement, delivered live to the press Friday, Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden issued a strong rebuttal of McConnell's wishes to confirm a justice before the upcoming election.

"Let me be clear: the voters should pick the President and the President should pick the Justice for the Senate to consider," Biden said. "This was the position the Republican Senate took in 2016, when there were almost ten months to go before the election. That's the position the United States Senate must take today."

As Biden notes, McConnell's stance on Supreme Court confirmations in election years has seemingly evolved over time to suit his own political needs. When conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016, McConnell declared it too close to Election Day to consider a replacement, ultimately blocking the nomination of then-President Barack Obama's choice for the high court, Merrick Garland.

At the time, McConnell, a Republican, said elected officials should "give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy" by waiting until the next president took office.

Scalia died 269 days before the 2016 election. By contrast, Ginsburg's death occurred just 45 days away from the 2020 Presidential election.

McConnell's statement drew ire from a wide swath of Democrats, including Ed Markey, who said McConnell had "set the precedent" in handling Supreme Court nominations in election years.

"No Supreme Court vacancies filled in an election year. If he violates it, when Democrats control the Senate in the next Congress, we must abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court," tweeted Markey.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, echoed Biden's statement on Friday: "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

Ginsburg herself is said to have specifically told family members that she did not wish to be replaced before the election.

NPR's Nina Totenberg, a close personal friend of Ginsburg’s, reported shortly after news of her death that the Justice had dictated to her granddaughter, Clara Spera, this statement in recent days: "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."

RELATED VIDEO: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice and Liberal Icon, Dies at 87

President Donald Trump — who expressed surprise at learning of the news of Ginsburg's death — spoke in general terms about the high court during a campaign rally Friday. “We will nominate judges and justices who interpret the Constitution as written,” Trump, 74, said, according to The Washington Post.

ABC News reports that Trump will likely put forth a nominee in the coming days. Among the top names reported to be in consideration for the post are Amy Coney Barrett, a former Notre Dame Law School professor and Judge on the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals who once clerked for Scalia and Joan Larsen, who was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 2017 after being nominated by Trump.

The Senate — in which Republicans currently hold 53 seats — will need a majority to confirm a nominee, a process that could be stymied by conservative holdouts.

Shortly before the announcement of Ginsburg's death Friday, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in an interview with Alaska Public Media: "I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. We are 50 some days away from an election." Maine Sen. Susan Collins, also a Republican, has reportedly said she would not seat a Supreme Court justice so close to the election.