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Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, the Republicans representing Mississippi in the U.S. Senate, want to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court before new elected officials take office in January.
The Friday death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an icon of the left and one of the most liberal justices on the Supreme Court, sent shock waves through the American political system, spurring debate over whether it was too close to Election Day for the Republican president to nominate a new justice and for the Republican-controlled Senate to consider the nomination.
Many pundits believe that Democrats could win the presidency and control of the Senate on Nov. 3. Since Ginsburg’s death, Democrats have argued that a confirmation process to replace her on the court should wait until after a new president and new Senate are elected.
But Republican leaders, including Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, appear eager to use possibly their last few weeks in power to nominate a new conservative-leaning justice.
Wicker and Hyde-Smith publicly agreed with McConnell’s approach over the weekend.
“President Trump and Senate Republicans promised to confirm well-qualified, conservative judges and justices to the federal courts,” Wicker said in a statement on Saturday. “We should continue to fulfill this promise and our constitutional duty for all vacancies as long as we are in office. I look forward to consideration of the President’s nominee by the full Senate.”
“President Trump and the Senate now have the solemn duty to fill that vacancy, a process that should not be delayed,” Hyde-Smith said in a statement on Sunday. “I take this responsibility seriously, and I support the President’s intention to name a nominee as soon as possible. I am confident he will continue his practice of nominating qualified, conservative jurists, who are committed to interpreting the law justly.”
Ginsburg, the second woman selected to serve on the Supreme Court, became a political and cultural icon to the left, wielding an ardent defense of equal rights. Republicans being in position to fill her seat means that conservative-leaning justices could control the nation’s highest court, and Democrats fear key Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade could be overturned.
Wicker’s statement over the weekend stands in contrast to public positions he took in 2016, when outgoing Democratic President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court after the passing of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Scalia died 10 months before 2016 Election Day — far longer than the 45 days that Ginsburg passed away before 2020 Election Day. Still, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate blocked Garland’s nomination, arguing that an outgoing Democratic president shouldn’t get to make the appointment.
“The American people should have the opportunity to make their voices heard before filling a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court,” Wicker said in March 2016, arguing that the nomination should wait until after the new president and Senate was elected. “In November, the country will get that chance by choosing a new president – a process that is well underway.”
Trump, in one of his first moves as president in January 2017, nominated Neil Gorsuch, who was quickly confirmed by the Republican Senate.
Republican leaders this week argue that 2020 is different than 2016 because Obama was term-limited and leaving office. Trump is running for re-election, though he trails in major polls in key electoral college states. Meanwhile, Republicans are also fighting to keep control of the Senate this fall.
As it stands currently, Republicans only need 51 votes to confirm a new justice once one is formally nominated. There are currently 53 GOP senators, meaning they can only lose three Republicans. In the event of a 50-50 split, Vice President Mike Pence could cast a tie-breaking vote.
Two Republican senators — Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — have publicly said the seat should not be filled before Election Day.
Hyde-Smith is facing re-election this year, and the Supreme Court debate is sure to be a main talking point on the campaign trail. Her Democratic opponent Mike Espy said in a statement on Monday morning that “the next president” should make the nomination.
“I firmly believe that Mississippians deserve to have their voices heard,” Espy said. “It should be up to the next president to nominate a qualified jurist to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat. The next Senate should consider a nominee and if I am elected, I will review any nominee’s qualifications for this serious, lifetime appointment.”