Ex-Sen. Al Franken says Senate GOP 'destroyed' the legitimacy of the Supreme Court: 'They've stolen two seats'

Al Franken
Former Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota.Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
  • Former Sen. Al Franken said Senate Republicans "undermined" the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

  • Franken pointed to McConnell's refusal to hold hearings for Garland and Barrett's 2020 nomination.

  • In a recent speech, Chief Justice John Roberts spoke out in defense of the high court's legitimacy.

Former Sen. Al Franken on Saturday said that Republicans in the upper chamber "destroyed" the legitimacy of the Supreme Court by refusing to hold a hearing for onetime nominee Merrick Garland and by installing Amy Coney Barrett to the high court only weeks before the 2020 presidential election.

During a CNN segment alongside Republican strategist Alice Stewart, the ex-Minnesota lawmaker told anchor Jim Acosta that he disagreed with Chief Justice John Roberts' recent remarks that citizens shouldn't question the legitimacy of the court simply because of rulings that they may disagree with, with the jurist arguing that the court isn't guided by politics.

And Franken pointed to onetime Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as a leading culprit in the decline of the public's perception of the court.

"The legitimacy of the court was undermined when they [Senate Republicans] wouldn't take up Merrick Garland and you'll remember that McConnell said it was because it was during an election year," he said. "You remember [Sen.] Lindsey Graham pledging that if a vacancy came open during an election year in 2020, then they wouldn't take up a nominee?"

He continued: "They've stolen two seats — the one that Merrick Garland wasn't given a hearing for and the one where [Amy] Coney Barrett was seated a week before the election. That destroyed the legitimacy of the court."

In 2016, McConnell blocked then-President Barack Obama's nomination of Garland to replace conservative Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, who had passed away in February of that year, by refusing to consider hearings for the well-known jurist. McConnell made his decision on the grounds that the next president should make the selection if a vacancy occurred in an election year.

After Republican Donald Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, Trump would go on to nominate conservative jurist Neil Gorsuch to replace Scalia.

Shortly after Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the court ahead of the 2018 midterms, Trump tapped Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace him. Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed (50-48) by the Senate.

And in September 2020, the liberal stalwart Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, with Trump quickly nominating conservative jurist Amy Coney Barrett to replace her on the court. Democrats railed against a Supreme Court nomination so close to the election, pointing to the Republican Party's refusal to consider Garland's nomination just four years before.

Barrett was eventually confirmed (52-48) less than two weeks before the election contest between Trump and now-President Joe Biden. (Garland went on to be nominated by Biden to become Attorney General; he was easily confirmed by the Senate and also received the backing of McConnell.)

Trump's judicial picks gave the Supreme Court a 6-3 conservative majority, and this past June, the court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, upending nearly 50 years of precedent on abortion rights in the United States.

Franken — a "Saturday Night Live" writer and cast member from the 1970s through the 1990s — was first elected to the Senate in 2008 and was reelected in 2014, but stepped down from office in January 2018 after facing allegations of sexual misconduct.

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