A piece in today’s Times:
President Trump vowed to nominate a woman this week to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the US Supreme Court as Joe Biden appealed to Republican senators to “follow your conscience” and wait for the election result.
Mr Trump, 74, called on Republicans in the Senate to prepare for a break-neck confirmation “without delay” and encouraged chants of “Fill that seat!” at a weekend rally in North Carolina. In Washington a crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court to lay floral and written tributes to Ms Ginsburg, 87, who died of cancer on Friday evening.
The appointment of a third Supreme Court justice by Mr Trump has quickly come to dominate the election agenda with six weeks to go until the poll. Both sides are hoping it will motivate voters to turn out for them on November 3.The Democrats are furious that Mitch McConnell, 78, the Senate majority leader, moved quickly to say he would bring Mr Trump’s nomination to the Senate after his actions in 2016, when he blocked Merrick Garland, a judge nominated by President Obama in March before that year’s election.
Mr McConnell said at the time that the next president should fill a Supreme Court seat that fell vacant in an election year; he now says that, since the Republicans control both the White House and Senate, they can rush through the appointment this year.
Mr Biden, 77, the Democratic candidate for president, accused Republicans planning to “jam this nomination through” of hypocrisy. “Please follow your conscience,” he said. “Don’t vote to confirm anyone nominated under the circumstances President Trump and Senator McConnell have created. Uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience, let the people speak. Cool the flames that have been engulfing our country. We can’t ignore the cherished system of checks and balances.”
Two US appeals court judges have emerged as front-runners for the nomination: Amy Coney Barrett, 48, a devout Catholic and former clerk to the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia; and Barbara Lagoa, 52, a Cuban-American who was the first Hispanic woman to serve on Florida’s supreme court. Ms Lagoa’s potential appeal not just to women voters but to Latinos in a must-win state may tip the balance in her favour.
“It will be a woman, a very talented, very brilliant woman,” Mr Trump told supporters at his rally in North Carolina on Saturday night. “We haven’t chosen yet, but we have numerous women on the list.” [J4MB emphasis] He said earlier: “I think the choice will be next week.”
The Senate decides on Supreme Court appointments by a simple majority.
One Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said she will not support a nomination before the election and a second, Susan Collins, who is facing a tough re-election battle in Maine, suggested that neither will she — making the party’s 53 to 47 advantage in the chamber look dangerously thin.
Mr McConnell can only afford to lose one more, given that a 50-50 vote in the Senate would be decided by the vice-president.
Ms Murkowski agreed with Democratic protests. “I did not support taking up a nomination eight months before the 2016 election to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Justice Scalia,” she said. “We are now even closer to the 2020 election — less than two months out — and I believe the same standard must apply.”
Mr Trump has seized the chance to focus on “culture war” issues such as abortion and gun ownership that are the subject of prominent Supreme Court rulings. One exit poll in 2016 found that 21 per cent of Republican voters made the court their top issue.
In a Reuters-Ipsos poll released yesterday, 62 per cent of Americans said that the vacancy should be decided by the winner of November’s election, 23 per cent said that they disagreed that the vacancy should be filled by the winner of the election and the remainder said that they were not sure.
The national poll, conducted over the weekend, also found that five in ten Republicans did not agree that the appointment should wait until after the election, whereas eight in ten Democrats did.
Mr Trump wrote on Twitter: “We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!”
Nancy Pelosi, the senior Democrat in Congress, refused to rule out tactics such as the impeachment of the president or of William Barr, the attorney-general, as ways of impeding Mr Trump’s rush to secure an appointment and cement his legacy as a champion of conservative values.
Asked about suggestions that the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives could start an impeachment process to hold up the Supreme Court nomination, she told ABC News: “Well, we have our options. We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now.”
Democratic activists called for retaliation against a Republican appointment by enlarging the Supreme Court to create a majority of liberal justices, should Mr Biden win the election and the party take control of both houses of Congress. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority Senate leader, said: “If Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year.”
Brian Morgenstern, deputy White House press secretary, told Fox News: “The Speaker threatened to impeach the president — again — for simply fulfilling his constitutional obligation. Numerous Democrats are threatening to pack the court and say things like ‘nothing is off the table’. These are bizarre and dangerous power grabs by Democrats who will stop at nothing to erode the constitution to enact their radical agenda.”
Mr Biden said that the winner of the election should choose Ms Ginsburg’s replacement, in line with the precedent set by the Republicans in 2016. To counter issues such as abortion returning to the centre stage of the election he tied the Supreme Court’s future to its impending ruling on Obamacare — the healthcare reforms brought in while he was vice-president — which the Democrats fear will be sunk by the court as it stands with its five-to-three conservative majority.
Seeking to contrast himself to Mr Trump, Mr Biden said that he would consult senators from both parties. “If I win, I will make my choice for the Supreme Court not based on a partisan election campaign but on what prior presidents have done . . . only after consulting Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and seeking their advice and asking for their consent. It would be a process that restores our finest traditions, not the extension of one that’s torn our country apart these last years.”
Ted Cruz, a Texas senator on Mr Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees issued earlier this month, called for a quick confirmation to avoid the possibility of the court being deadlocked over crucial post-election issues. “We cannot have election day come and go with a four-four court,” Mr Cruz, 49, told Fox News. “A four-four court that is equally divided cannot decide anything. And I think we risk a constitutional crisis if we do not have a nine-justice Supreme Court, particularly when there is such a risk of a contested election.”
The former president Bill Clinton said that President Lincoln had delayed filling a Supreme Court vacancy shortly before the 1864 election. “Let’s remember the precedent Abraham Lincoln set and promises Mitch McConnell made,” Mr Clinton, 74, told CNN. “You can’t keep a democracy if there’s one set of rules for one group and another set for everybody else.”
A poll for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal put Mr Biden eight points ahead of Mr Trump nationally by 51 per cent to 43 per cent. Almost nine in ten voters (89 per cent) said they had firmly made up their mind.
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