What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies
Senate Republicans have different views over whether a vacancy on the Supreme Court should be filled this late in an election cycle.
Several Senate Republicans who face tough reelection battles in 2020 have in the past said it’s too late and that the next president should decide.
Others, led by Sens. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.), are saying the GOP should move forward to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court following the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Republicans close to the White House expect Trump to put forth a nominee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says any potential nominee will get a vote.
McConnell and then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) blocked Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, from getting a hearing ahead of the 2016 election. Scalia died in mid-February of 2016.
Here’s a look at what Republican senators have said about the issue so far.
Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.)
McSally became the first GOP senator to announce her support for filling the Supreme Court vacancy Friday night.
“This U.S. Senate should vote on President Trump’s next nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court,” McSally said over Twitter.
Polls show McSally trailing Democrat Mark Kelly by large margins in her reelection bid.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.)
Scott does not face reelection in 2020 but said Friday night that he supports filling the seat now.
“It would be irresponsible to allow an extended vacancy on the Supreme Court,” Scott said. “I believe that President Trump’s nominee should get a vote in the U.S. Senate.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
In 2018, Graham vowed to wait until the next election if an opening on the Supreme Court happened after the primaries. Graham’s remarks will likely be a focal point for Democrats in the debate over a new nominee.
“This may make you feel better, but I really don’t care,” Graham said. “If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait until the next election.”
Graham is locked in an unexpectedly tough race against Democrat Jaime Harrison, who has raised tens of millions of dollars and is running close in the polls in deep red South Carolina.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Collins, who is among the most vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection, said earlier this month she would not seat a new Justice in October 2020 or if there’s a lame duck and a change of presidents.
“I think that’s too close, I really do,” she said.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)
In July, Ernst said that she would approve of moving forward with filling a vacancy even in a lame-duck session.
“(If) it is a lame-duck session, I would support going ahead with any hearings that we might have,” Ernst told PBS in Iowa. “And if it comes to an appointment prior to the end of the year, I would be supportive of that.”
Ernst is running for reelection in a state Trump won by 9 points in 2016. However, Democratic nominee Joe Biden is running strong in the polls across the Midwest and Ernst faces a tough challenge against Democrat Theresa Greenfield.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)
Late in 2016, Tillis wrote an op-ed defending the GOP’s decision to refuse a hearing for Garland, saying “voters — not a lame-duck president — should decide the composition of the highest court in the land.”
Tillis is running for reelection against Democrat Cal Cunningham in North Carolina, which along with Florida is among the closest battleground states up for grabs in 2020.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.)
Gardner, who faces a tough reelection battle in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016, defended the GOP’s decision to deny Garland a hearing.
“The next president of the United States should have the opportunity to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court,” Gardner said at the time. “In 1992, even then-Senator Joe Biden stated the Senate should not hold confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court nominee until after that year’s presidential election. Our next election is too soon and the stakes are too high; the American people deserve a role in this process as the next Supreme Court Justice will influence the direction of this country for years to come.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
Murkowski said this year that since Republicans denied Garland a hearing in 2016, they should not fill a vacancy in 2020.
“When Republicans held off Merrick Garland it was because nine months prior to the election was too close, we needed to let people decide. And I agreed to do that. If we now say that months prior to the election is OK when nine months was not, that is a double standard and I don’t believe we should do it,” she said. “So I would not support it.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)
Thune, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, said it is incumbent on the GOP to move ahead with filling the seat.
“I believe Americans sent a Republican president and a Republican Senate to Washington to ensure we have an impartial judiciary that upholds the Constitution and the rule of law,” Thune said. “We will fulfill our obligation to them. As Leader McConnell has said, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate.”