Much to the ire of Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to fill any vacancy that should open on the Supreme Court in the midst of the 2020 campaign for the presidency.
In a break from tradition, and a seeming reversal of his own previous position on the matter, McConnell, has made it clear what would happen if a Supreme Court vacancy should materialize in the midst of the 2020 election season — “Uh, we’d fill it.”
Although his comment drew laughter and support from those in attendance at a recent luncheon, progressives swiftly accused McConnell of partisan hypocrisy, based on the treatment of former Barack Obama Supreme Court nominee and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals chief judge, Merrick Garland.
Obama nominated Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, but McConnell and Senate Republicans refused to hold a hearing or vote on his nomination, citing the imminent 2016 presidential election.
McConnell defended his position, then and now, as the only way a president and his party gets to enact any kind of lasting change — that is not subject to the winds of fate when another party takes the White House – is in the appointment of Supreme Court Justices.
“What can’t be undone is a lifetime appointment to a young man or woman who believes in the quaint notion that the job of the judge is to follow the law. That’s the most important thing for the country, which cannot be undone.”
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Speaking to Fox News last year, McConnell suggested his stance was not hypocritical — because in 2020 during the run-up to the election, Republicans would control both the White House and the Senate, unlike Democrats in 2016, who controlled only the White House. On Tuesday, a McConnell spokesperson doubled down on that reasoning, saying the situations are not comparable.
“You have to go back to 1880s to find the last time a Senate controlled by a party different from the president filled a vacancy on the Supreme Court that was created in the middle of a presidential election year,” McConnell told Fox News.
However, Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, begged to differ, calling McConnell a “complete hypocrite,” on Twitter.
“Senator McConnell’s statements further damage and undermine the Supreme Court at a time when its standing has been significantly diminished in the eyes of the public,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the nonpartisan Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told Fox News in a statement. “His naked political gamesmanship threatens to further erode the integrity of our nation’s highest court. McConnell’s comments are not only reprehensible but a reminder about the unprecedented and unprincipled tactics used to fill the seat currently occupied by Justice Gorsuch.”
Clarke continued, “For civil rights lawyers who are witnessing unrelenting attacks on constitutional rights every day, this is no laughing matter.”
With 86 year-old Ruth Bader Ginsberg facing continued heath issues, and both Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, being 80, court-watchers feel a vacancy could be imminent.