By Johnathan Miller
Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on Sept. 18 has sparked a national debate over whether the Republican-controlled Senate should vote on a nominee to replace her with the 2020 general election only six weeks away.
According to statical analysis conducted by FiveThirtyEight, Democrats have a 62 percent chance of taking control of the Senate in the 2020 election.
If Democrats take control of the Senate, some of the goals in the future could be: changing the number of justices on the Supreme Court, setting term limits on justices, removing 60-vote requirements on legislation, and adding Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. as states.
Justice Ginsburg was a legend for women’s rights in America and became a pop culture icon for many. Editor-in-Chief of the FDU Equinox Elizabeth Scalzo highlighted important accomplishments that the justice achieved and remembered her memory as a fighter for feministic goals.
Liberals feared the death of Justice Ginsburg since at least the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh gave Republicans a 5-4 majority in the Supreme Court with Chief Justice John Roberts occasionally breaking ranks as the “swing” justice. With the passing of Justice Ginsburg, the court’s ideological balance is at 5-3.
President Donald Trump tweeted on Sept. 19, “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!”
Four years ago, conservative Justice Anthony Scalia died in February, nine months before the election. Republicans at the time refused to hold a hearing for President Barak Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, until after the election.
“I believe the overwhelming view of the Republican Conference in the Senate is that this nomination should not be filled, this vacancy should not be filled by this lame duck president,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) from Kentucky said. “The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let’s give them a voice. Let’s let the American people decide. The Senate will appropriately revisit the matter when it considers the qualifications of the nominee the next president nominates, whoever that might be.”
Republican leaders and rank-and-file members soon complied with Sen. McConnell’s request. Sen. Grassley, Republican senator from Iowa who was chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 2016, also refused Garland a vote. Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine said, “Chairman Grassley congratulated Judge Garland and reiterated the position of the Senate majority, that it will give the American people a voice and an opportunity this year to debate the role of the Supreme Court in our system of government.”
Senate Democrats criticized the Republicans in 2016. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) tweeted on Feb. 22, 2016, “Attn GOP: Senate has confirmed 17 #SCOTUS justices in presidential election year.”
Now it appears that the sides have flipped. While Democrats are arguing that voting on a nominee with less than six weeks until an election is an abuse toward the voters, Republicans now argue that they have a constitutional obligation.
Cory Gardner, a Republican senator from Colorado, barely won his election in 2014 by 2.5%. His statement released in 2016 said, “The Obama Administration continues to use the judicial and regulatory systems to push through its legislative agenda, shifting the balance of power that our Founders established. That is why the next president of the United States should have the opportunity to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. In 1992, even then-Senator Joe Biden stated the Senate should not hold confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court nominee until after that year’s presidential election. Our next election is too soon and the stakes are too high; the American people deserve a role in this process as the next Supreme Court Justice will influence the direction of this country for years to come.”
Sen. Gardner recently released a statement that said, “When a President exercises constitutional authority to nominate a judge for the Supreme Court vacancy, the Senate must decide how to best fulfill its constitutional duty of advice and consent. I have and will continue to support judicial nominees who will protect our Constitution, not legislate from the bench, and uphold the law. Should a qualified nominee who meets this criteria be put forward, I will vote to confirm.”
Sen. Gardner is facing a tough re-election campaign against former Colorado Gov. John Hickinlooper.
Senate Republicans hold a 53-47 majority and want to go through a Supreme Court nomination process that is quicker than most. On average, since 1975, it has taken about 68 days for a nominee to be confirmed in a vote on the Senate floor. Democrats need four Republican senators to buck the party in order to halt the nomination. Only two Republian senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have come out against this fast track, while Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and Thom Tillis (R-NC), all experiencing a competitive election, have come out in favor of confirming a nominee. As it stands, Republicans have enough senators to confirm a new justice prior to election day on Nov. 3
Supreme Court Frontrunner Name Already Circulated
President Trump will likely nominate a new nominee on Saturday. Though there are a number of possibilities of who that nominee will be, one of the frontrunners is Amy Coney Barret, a Judge for the 7th U.S. Appeals Court. President Trump nominated her for that position in 2017.
When the new nominee gets seated, barring unexpected surprises, the Court will take a big step to the right with a 6-3 conservative majority. Chief Justice Roberts will no longer be a single swing court since he would only result in a 5-4 ruling in favor of conservatives.
The Democrats, in response to this power move, said that everything is in play. “Let me be clear: if Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year,” Sen. Schumer said in a meeting with Senate Democrats. “Nothing is off the table.”
Democrats are in a minority in the Senate and without a majority, they do not wield much power to do much. If the Republicans want to hold a vote and confirm, that is what the Senate will do.
However, Democrats are fighting to take the majority of the Senate for the first time since they lost it in 2014. Democrats need 51 seats for an outright majority or, 50 senate seats with Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) being the tiebreaker if she becomes vice president.
With Democrats likely to lose a seat in Alabama, they need a net gain of four seats to take control of the chamber.
Johnathan Miller (Twitter: @JMiller_NJ) is a senior political science major from Lacey, N.J. He is glad to join the Equinox in covering the 2020 Presidential Election for students and to help students understand and participate in the political process.
Art by Johnathan Miller