The death of 87-year-old liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, 46 days away from the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, has sparked a partisan debate over how soon a replacement should be filled.
Ginsburg died of complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington, D.C., the Supreme Court said in a press release.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said it is the new president elected by voters later this year who should nominate a replacement for Ginsburg.
"Let me be clear, that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider," Biden said.
The former vice president mentioned the effort by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and then Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, both Republicans, to block Merrick Garland, whom was then President Barrack Obama's nominee to replace late Justice Antonin Scalia, from getting a Senate hearing before the 2016 election. Scalia died in mid-February 2016.
"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 U.S. Senate must take today. The (2020) election is only 46 days off. I think the fastest Justice ever confirmed was 47 days and the average is closer to 70 days ... that is my hope and expectation of what should happen."
Trump did not mention the selection of a nominee in his statement regarding the passing away of Ginsburg. He said Ginsburg, the second female Supreme Court justice in U.S. history, was "renowned for her brilliant mind and her powerful dissent at the Supreme Court," adding that "her opinions, including well-known decisions regarding the legal equality of women and the disabled, have inspired all Americans, and generations of great legal minds."
Axios news website cited a top Republican as saying that Trump will move within days to nominate a new Supreme Court justice. He unveiled a list of 20 candidates on Sept. 9, among them Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Cruz said Friday evening that Trump should nominate a new justice "next week."
"We have a responsibility to do our job," Cruz told Fox News's Sean Hannity. "We cannot let Election Day come and go and with a 4-4 court ... we risk a constitutional crisis. I believe that the president next week should nominate a successor to the court ... and I think that it is critical that the Senate takes up and confirms that successor."
Cruz said there would be "enormous pressure from the media" as Democrats try to delay filling the vacancy.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said shortly after the announcement of Ginsburg's death that the Senate should wait until the next president assumes office to fill the seat vacated by the late justice.
"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 said in a tweet.
Schumer's words echoed what Ginsberg said before she died. "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed," she said in a statement dictated to her granddaughter, Clara Spera, according to a report by National Public Radio on Friday.
Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, noted Ginsburg's final wish in her tweet, saying, "With voting already underway for the 2020 elections, Ruthie's 'most fervent wish' was for her replacement not to be named 'until a new president is installed.' We must honor her wish."
While offering his condolences over Ginsburg's passing by highlighting "her extraordinary American life," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed that Trump's nominee to replace Ginsburg "will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate."
"In the last midterm election before Justice Scalia's death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president's second term. We kept our promise," McConnell said.
"Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president's Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year," McConnell said.
"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," the Kentucky Republican said.
McConnell's decision will set up a fierce election-year battle in the Senate just 46 days away from Election Day. Although Republicans in the Senate, where they hold the majority, changed the rules so that the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice now needs 51 votes rather than a supermajority, there are some vulnerable GOP members facing tough re-election fights who might not unite with the caucus.
Those Senate Republicans, such as Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Joni Ernst of Iowa, did not say anything about whether there should be a confirmation vote and only eulogized Ginsburg in their reactions to her death.
The New York Times' reporter Jonathan Martin tweeted Friday that Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine said "earlier this month" that she would not seat a Supreme Court justice in October, adding that she also opposed confirming a nominee in the lame-duck period if there is a change in presidents in the upcoming election.
Ed Markey, Democratic senator from Massachusetts, slammed McConnell for his decision to quickly call a confirmation vote. "Mitch McConnell set the precedent. No Supreme Court vacancies filled in an election year. If he violates it, when Democrats control the Senate in the next Congress, we must abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court," he tweeted.
Markey and other progressives have called for ending the 60-vote legislative filibuster when and if Democrats win back the majority in the Senate, arguing that it has led to constant stalemates on important agendas, such as ethics and election reform, immigration, healthcare and climate change legislation.