Sen. Mitch McConnell said Friday the Senate will vote to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” McConnell said in a statement issued Friday night.
It is unclear whether McConnell plans on bringing a potential nominee to a vote before or after this November’s election.
It would be a very quick turnaround if the Senate were to confirm a nominee before the election, said Josh Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky.
“Typically they take a little longer,” Douglas said. “But there is nothing under the law that says they can’t do it tomorrow.”
McConnell’s decision is likely to be the beginning of a fierce battle between Republicans and Democrats for the seat and carries an electoral impact in tight races across the country, even as Americans have already begun voting. McConnell is running for re-election against Democrat Amy McGrath.
Late Friday, McGrath said she would “save the political rhetoric for another day.”
“It would be nice if our politics allowed even a day to pass before pouncing on the death of a patriot for political purposes,” McGrath said. “But my opponent has already done so, contradicting his stance on filling vacancies. Such is the custom in Mitch McConnell’s Washington.”
Douglas said the vacancy “changes the dynamics of everything.”
Ginsburg told her granddaughter, Clara Spera, that her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” according to NPR and at least four Republican senators have said they would not fill a supreme court vacancy before the November election, according to CNN.
But McConnell would still have the lame duck session — the two months after the Election Day — to confirm a Supreme Court nominee, a decision that could be as contentious as deciding to fill the vacancy before Election Day, depending on the outcome of the election.
“There’s nothing legally that would prevent them from doing it,” Douglas said. But he added that “any push to move a nomination forward before January 20 would make (Justice Brett) Kavanaugh’s nomination look tame.”
On Friday McConnell’s decision was met with instant criticism from the Kentucky Democratic Party, which said its thoughts and prayers were with Ginsburg’s friends and family.
“It’s disgusting that Senator McConnell chose to spend tonight focused on political posturing and salivating over her replacement,” said Ben Self, the chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party.
On Saturday, a crowd of protesters responded to McConnell’s comments following Ginsburg’s death by protesting outside his Louisville home, the Courier-Journal reported.
In 2016, McConnell controversially decided not to fill the vacancy of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia until after the 2016 presidential election, saying it was up to “the American people” to decide. Scalia was ultimately replaced by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
In his memoir, The Long Game, McConnell called that decision one of the most consequential of his career in the Senate, as it allowed conservatives to maintain a majority on the Supreme Court and helped President Donald Trump win the election.
McConnell referenced that consequential decision in his statement Friday, but drew contrasts between 2016 and 2020, pointing out that the Senate and the presidency were controlled by opposing political parties. He specified that the Senate has not confirmed “an opposite-party president’s” nominee in an election year.
“By contrast, 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. Once again, we will keep our promise.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., copied McConnell’s 2016 statement on Twitter Friday night.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” Schumer wrote. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told reporters Friday “there is no doubt” that the vacancy should be left until after the election.
“This was the position the Republican Senate took in 2016 when there were almost 10 months to go before the election,” Biden said. “That’s the position the United States Senate must take today.”