The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg put the Supreme Court at the epicenter of the 2020 presidential election, setting up a furious battle over who should fill the vacancy.
Ginsburg, 87, died Friday of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer, just weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election, likely marking the start of a bitter partisan feud over who will fill her empty seat.
Conservatives outnumbered liberals on the court 5-4 before the death of Ginsburg, a liberal stalwart. With a new right-leaning justice, conservatives could hold a solid 6-3 majority.
At the beginning of September, President Trump unveiled a list of potential Supreme Court nominees should he have future vacancies to fill. The list included a trio of conservative senators — Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., — as well as Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Christopher Landau, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
“Wow. I didn’t know that,” Trump told reporters Friday night when informed of Ginsburg’s death. “You’re telling me now for the first time. She led an amazing life. What else can you say? She was an amazing woman, whether you agreed or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. I’m actually saddened to hear that.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly said that he would move swiftly to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, despite opposing a push by Democrats and former President Barack Obama to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat after he died in February 2016. McConnell reiterated that pledge on Friday night.
“Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary,” McConnell said in a statement. “Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
Republicans hold a slim 53-47 majority in the Senate, and it’s unclear that they have the necessary votes to nominate and confirm a new justice. A simple majority of senators present and voting is required for the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice.
Several senators who are facing tight re-election odds this year, including Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in 2016 suggested the Senate should wait until after the November election to nominate and confirm a new justice.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has already said the open seat should not be filled until after the Nov. 3 election.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted on Friday.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has vowed to nominate a Black woman to the nation’s highest court system.
In a statement Friday night, the former vice president said the Senate should wait until after the election to nominate and confirm a new justice, citing Republicans’ opposition in 2016 to Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s seat.
“The voters should pick a president, and that President should select a successor to Justice Ginsburg,” he said. “This was the position that the Republican Senate took in 2016, when there were nearly nine months before the election. That is the position the United States Senate must take now, when the election is less than two months away.”