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Supreme Court Justice Vacancy

Artwork by Meghan Hoffman

On September 18th of 2020, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away from pancreatic cancer, leaving a vacancy in the nation’s highest court. Within hours of Ginsburg’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement affirming that the Republican-held Senate would hold a vote on the nominee chosen by President Trump. That vote is now scheduled to be held immediately before election day, and Trump’s court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, is all but guaranteed to be approved. However, numerous polls have found a majority of Americans opposed to the filling of the vacancy, especially given the manner in which Senator McConnell has treated similar vacancies in the past. Given the current proximity to Election Day, the Senate should not hold a confirmation vote until the inauguration of the next president in January of next year. 

    When Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February of 2016, Democratic President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. However, following the death of Justice Scalaia, Senator McConnell and the Republican Senate stated that the Senate would not hold a vote on President Obama’s nominee because the vacancy should be filled by the next president of the United States. Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed with McConnell, and no hearings were held. 

    Various Republican Senators, including Lindsey Graham (SC) and Ted Cruz (TX), are now contradicting their own statements from 2016 to support President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Graham claimed in 2016 that if a vacancy were to occur in the last year of a Republican president’s term, specifically referencing the 2020 election, he would “let the next president [. . .] make that nomination.” Despite his previous statements, on September 21st Graham announced that it was essential to “process any nomination made by President Trump to fill [the] vacancy.” Senator Cruz took a similar stance in 2016, declared that the Senate “will not consider any Supreme Court nominee until the people have spoken and a new president is inaugurated.” Now Cruz believes that the Senate should appoint President Trump’s nominee prior to Election Day.

    A few Republican Senators, including Susan Collins (ME) who faces a difficult reelection battle against Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, are dissenting from their colleagues and siding with Democrats by agreeing that the Senate should not appoint President Trump’s nominee at this time. In a statement made on September 19th via Twitter, Collins confirmed that she does “not believe that the Senate should vote on the nominee prior to the election.” Democrats have been adamant about waiting until after the election, but despite their protests, Republican Senators have ultimately decided to move forward with the nomination.

    Past incidents of court nomination processes make it clear that the Senate should reject a confirmation vote before inauguration day. In 2016, the vacancy in the Supreme Court occured in February, almost ten months before Election Day, and Republican Senators were adamant about waiting on filling the seat until after the election. Considering how the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg occurred almost two months prior to Election Day, with millions of Americans having already cast their ballots through early voting and mail in ballots, Senate Republicans should take the same stance they did in 2016 and advocate for waiting to appoint a Supreme Court Justice until January of 2021. The Senate should allow the American people to have a say in who the next Supreme Court Justice will be by allowing them to vote for the president prior to the appointment. By not doing so, Republicans are putting party over country. Republicans must allow the American people to have a say in who will fill the seat for the next several decades by letting the election occur before the appointment of a new justice.

Elving, R. (2018, June 29). What Happened With Merrick Garland In 2016 And Why It Matters Now. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/2018/06/29/624467256/what-happened-with-merrick-garland-in-2016-and-why-it-matters-now.

Villa, Lissandra. “Here’s What GOP Senators Said About the 2016 Supreme Court Vacancy-And What They’re Saying Now.” Time. Time, September 24, 2020. https://time.com/5892574/senate-republicans-supreme-court-vote/

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