U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) arrives at a weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon at Hart Senate Office Building August 4, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said on Sunday that she will not support President Donald Trump’s nomination of a replacement to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before Election Day.
The announcement makes Murkowski the second Republican in the Senate, after Susan Collins of Maine, to announce her opposition to filling Ginsburg’s seat before Nov. 3.
Murkowski’s position narrows the path for Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to place Ginsburg’s successor before voters decide whether Trump will hold the White House for a second term.
“For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election. Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed,” Murkowski said in a statement.
“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 added. “We are now even closer to the 2020 election – less than two months out – and I believe the same standard must apply.”
The GOP has a 53-seat majority in Congress’s upper chamber, meaning the party will not be able to confirm a justice if more than three senators defect, assuming every Democrat votes against the nominee.
Ginsburg died on Friday at 87-years-old after suffering from pancreatic cancer. The liberal justice’s death ignited a partisan firestorm in Washington, with just over six weeks to go until Election Day.
Trump has pledged to nominate a new justice without delay, and McConnell has said that the person will receive a vote on the Senate floor. In a letter to his fellow Republicans on Friday evening, McConnell told them to be cautious about publicly staking out a position on the vote.
“Over the coming days, we are all going to come under tremendous pressure from the press to announce how we will handle the coming nomination, ” he wrote in the letter, which was obtained by NBC News. “For those of you who are unsure how to answer, or for those inclined to oppose giving a nominee a vote, I urge you all to keep your powder dry.
On Saturday, Collins said that she believed the winner of the November election should decide who replaces Ginsburg.
“In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the President or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd,” Collins said.
Collins is facing a tough reelection battle of her own, facing off against Democrat Sara Gideon for a chance at a fifth term, and has been dogged by her support for Trump’s second nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch. Murkowski voted against Kavanaugh and will not face a reelection vote until 2022.
The attention is likely to turn now to Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president, who has split with Trump in the past and is considered a moderate. Romney was the only Republican in the Senate to vote in favor of Trump’s impeachment earlier this year.
Romney, who was not in office when Kavanaugh was confirmed but said he would have voted in favor of his nomination, has not indicated whether he supports a new Trump nomination before election day.
The push-and-pull over a potential vote has been shaped by charges that McConnell’s eagerness to seat a new justice is hypocritical.
McConnell refused to even hold a hearing on former President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the seat vacated by the late Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, citing the election calendar.
He has since said that the distinction between 2016 and 2020 is that the same party holds both the Senate and the White House this cycle.
In a year that already featured unusual amounts of partisan rancor, the fight over the Supreme Court has only turned up the heat.
Both parties see the court as key to their agendas on civil rights, health care, reproductive rights, gun laws and the strength of the government’s ability to regulate big business.
This year, the court is also more likely than usual to resolve election litigation that could prove decisive in the battle between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, thanks to an unusually large number of cases spawned by the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the president has not named a nominee yet, he has said it is likely to be a woman. Amy Coney Barrett, a federal appeals court judge with strong appeal among conservative Christians, is thought to be a front-runner.
Earlier this month, before Ginsburg’s death, Trump added 20 new names to his Supreme Court shortlist, among them conservative GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri.