Crime & Justice

Debate about high court vacancy heats up US election climate

By Laura Barros

Washington, Sep 22 (efe-epa).- Debate surrounding the replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been heating up the electoral climate in the United States, which to date had been dominated by the coronavirus and Democratic criticism of President Donald Trump’s management of the pandemic, which has now taken more than 200,000 lives in the US.

Americans will go to the polls on Nov. 3 to elect the president, the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate, and amid the already-heated campaign environment this new issue is now creating increased controversy given that the Senate’s decision whether or not to confirm Trump’s nominee will potentially dramatically affect the conservative-liberal balance on the high court for decades to come, considering the fact that all seats are lifetime appointments.

Trump on Tuesday revealed that on Saturday he will nominate his pick for the high court vacancy, refusing to reveal the name of that person although Judge Amy Coney Barrett is widely deemed to be the favorite and the president met with her on Monday.

Also apparently among the top contenders for the SC spot is Cuban-American Judge Barbara Lagoa, Allison Jones Rushing, federal Judge Joan Larsen and White House attorney Kate Todd.

“I will be announcing my Supreme Court Nominee on Saturday, at the White House!” tweeted Trump on Tuesday, adding that the precise timing of the announcement will be announced later.

Since Monday, Trump has been saying that he is planning to make the announcement on Friday or Saturday and that he wanted a woman to replace Ginsburg, the progressive legal icon who died last Friday at age 87 after a long battle with cancer.

Trump’s decision to delay the announcement until the weekend further reduces the amount of time available for the Senate to confirm any pick before the Nov. 3 election.

White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany on Tuesday defended the idea that the president could nominate Ginsburg’s replacement before the election, an issue that has sharply divided political and legal opinion around the country and which led activists to protest on Monday morning before the home of GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and who in 2016 opposed the high court nomination of then-President Barack Obama.

“There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the president stops being the president in an election year,” said McEnany during a press conference.

Citing the US Constitution, she argued that the president can nominate a person to the high court when a vacancy occurs, without regard to when in the presidential term this takes place.

She added that Trump has already named two conservative justices to the Supreme Court – that is, Neil Gorsuch and Brent Kavanaugh – and now he will nominate a third.

Those who oppose Trump making such a move argue – as the Republicans did against Obama’s high court pick – that whoever is elected president in the upcoming election should have the option to name the new justice, although the winner, whether that’s Trump gaining a second term or Democratic candidate Joe Biden prevailing at the polls, will not take office until January along with the newly-elected Congress.

The Senate, which has a 53-47 conservative majority, has become the battleground in the matter, as on other occasions.

In 2016, when Republicans were in the majority in the Senate but Obama, a Democrat, was president, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked any vote on Obama’s SC pick, arguing that he was perfectly within his rights to do so.

Besides Graham and McConnell, Sen. Ted Cruz also opposed Obama’s being allowed to name a high court justice four years ago.

This time around, the Republicans still hold a Senate majority but there is a Republican in the White House and thus McConnell and other GOP lawmakers have reversed course and are now pushing for Trump to nominate another conservative to the court, whom they look poised to confirm quickly.

The high court had had a 5-4 conservative majority before Ginsburg’s passing, but if Trump manages to get another conservative onto the bench there will be an almost unassailable 6-3 conservative majority, which could well color the court’s rulings on a wide variety of consequential cases for many decades.

Apart from one exception, “no Senate has failed to confirm a nominee in the circumstances that face us now,” said McConnell, referring to the circumstance where the president and Senate majority are of the same party. “The historical precedent is overwhelming and it runs in one direction. If our Democratic colleagues want to claim they are outraged, they can only be outraged at the plain facts of American history,” he added.

McConnell went on to vow on his Twitter account that the Senate would vote on Trump’s high court pick “this year.”

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