What’s next for the Supreme Court?
A Mid-Michigan political science expert weighs-in
Washington, D.C. (WJRT) (09/19/2020)-Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death Friday seems to have thrown an already chaotic election into outright upheaval. Since her confirmation in 1993, her tenure has framed some of the court’s most consequential decisions in decades. Her successor will influence the court’s course for decades to come.
The president is expected to swiftly nominate a successor, pulling from a running list of nearly 50 potential names.
Hours after the news of Ginsburg’s death broke, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement vowing “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
A stunning reversal, according to critics, who point to the Kentucky republican’s refusal to even consider Merrick Garland -- then President Obama’s pick to replace late Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016 – when he gave this reason:
“The next president, whoever that may be is going to be the person who chooses the next Supreme Court justice.”
But that was then, this is now, according to McConnell, who claims the situation has changed. With a republican senate and a republican in the White House, the so-called Biden rule doesn’t apply and hasn’t under these circumstances since the 1880s. Historically, however, the Wall Street Journal found the senate had confirmed 21 nominees to the bench in the midst of previous presidential election cycles.
“That may or may not sell with some republicans,” speculated Professor Paul Rozycki.
Rozycki teaches political science at Mott College.
“It’s hypocrisy from the point of view that seemed to be laid out a few years ago,” explained Rozycki. “But, the bottom line is this: in terms of pure politics, they’ve got the votes.”
It comes after the senate changed the rules in 2017 to block a democratic filibuster of then-nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The confirmation vote now requires a simple majority.
“That means this time, unless there are four Republicans who change their mind… Trump will probably get the nominee he wants,” speculated Rozycki.
But with a slim 53/47 margin, the spotlight has turned to a cluster of republicans who might turn the tables: Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have all previously said they would not vote on an election year nominee.
As it moves through various hearings and vote tallies, the average Supreme Court confirmation takes 67 days according to the Congressional Research Service. Leading some to question whether McConnell and his majority have enough time to push an appointment through before the November election and whether that matters.
“Theoretically, even after the election if Trump were defeated, he’s still president until January 20,” explained Rozycki. “You can see a nomination and the attempt to get somebody through.”
The vacancy may shake things up at the polls as well, galvanizing voters who want a say in the monumental decisions the high court will weigh in the coming years.
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