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Trump set to name Supreme Court nominee this week. Where do Pa.'s U.S. senators stand on the issue?

Centre Daily Times logoCentre Daily Times 9/24/2020 By Marley Parish, Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.)

The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has opened the door for a partisan battle over who decides who fills the vacancy on the United States Supreme Court and if a nominee should be confirmed before the general election.

At the center of the debate is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who — hours after Ginsburg’s death — said President Donald Trump’s nominee will get a vote in the Senate.

This would be a complete reversal of his position four years ago, when the Republican-led Senate refused for almost a year to allow any consideration of Democratic President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, following the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

McConnell’s reasoning: It was too close to the general election.

Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court and an advocate for women’s rights, died Friday at 87 years old due to complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer, the Supreme Court said. Days before her death, Ginsburg told her granddaughter Clara Spera: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” NPR reported.

Despite the precedent established in 2016 and the November general election less than two months away, federal leaders are divided on how best to address the vacancy on the bench — an absence that will have profound consequences for both the court and country.

Ginsburg’s death means that the leader of the liberal wing is gone and with eight judges, Chief Justice John Roberts no longer has the controlling vote in narrowly contested cases.

Local, state and national elected officials offered their condolences to Ginsburg’s family and respect to her legacy, but now state senators are joining the fight in deciding who gets to select the next Supreme Court nominee.

Four years ago, United States Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., opposed moving forward with the nomination process for Judge Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee, due to “circumstances at the time.”

The White House and Senate, which share the constitutional authority for filling a Supreme Court vacancy, were controlled by opposing parties.

But with a sitting Republican president and GOP-controlled Senate, Toomey has altered his stance. On Tuesday, the senator issued a statement about the Supreme Court vacancy and joined those in favor of moving forward with the nomination process.

“The circumstances surrounding the current vacancy are, in fact, different,” Toomey said. “While there is a presidential election this year, the White House and the Senate are currently both controlled by the same party. The Senate’s historical practice has been to fill Supreme Court vacancies in these circumstances.”

Democratic senators, Toomey said, pushed for Garland’s nomination in 2016. But Toomey neglected to mention that the nomination of Garland occurred in March of 2016 — eight months before the presidential election.

“Are we now supposed to operate by two different sets of rules that systematically advantage the Democrats?” he asked.

In 2016, voters had the “chance to speak” by electing a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Senate, Toomey said. In 2016, the voters also expanded the GOP majority in the Senate.

“Since the voters resolved the tension between the White House and the Senate, there is no reason to delay filling this vacancy,” he said.

United States Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., released a statement Friday, opposing McConnell and Toomey’s stances on the vacancy.

“Consistent with the precedent set by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2016, Justice Ginsburg’s seat should be filled until the presidential election concludes and the candidate chosen by voters is sworn into office,” he wrote.

Casey said Monday that the next Supreme Court nominee is likely to be the deciding vote on whether the Affordable Care Act will be overturned, which would result in 5.5 million Pennsylvanians losing their protections for pre-existing conditions. Over 900 thousand would lose insurance completely.

“It is disturbing and hypocritical that Republican senators would attempt to fill this vacancy now while Americans across the country have already begun casting their ballots in this presidential election, especially when they were unwilling to even grant a hearing to President Obama’s nominee to the court in early 2016,” Casey said.

The president said on Twitter that he will name his nominee Saturday at the White House.

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©2020 the Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.)

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