Former President Bill Clinton has called President Donald Trump’s decision to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat “superficially hypocritical.” His own party colleagues aren’t above that same hypocrisy.
Bader Ginsburg passed away on Friday aged 87, after a two-decade battle with cancer. Trump announced the following day that he would nominate a successor, a call backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Clinton described the decision on Sunday as “a superficially hypocritical call,” given that McConnell had refused to hold a Senate vote on then-President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016, ten months before that year’s presidential election.
“I mean, Mitch McConnell wouldn’t give President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing 10 months before the presidential election. And that meant we went a long time with eight judges on the court,” Clinton told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“This is what they do,” he continued. “I think that, you know, both for Senator McConnell and President Trump, their first value is power and they’re trying to jam the courts with as many ideological judges as they can.”
However, while McConnell has drawn flak for pushing ahead with a replacement, a number of prominent Democrats have gone back on their word following the death of Ginsburg. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for instance, badgered McConnell to hold a vote on Garland in 2016, but now insists that “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
Likewise, Joe Biden claimed in 2016 that the Senate had a “duty” to fill the vacant seat, but argued on Friday that “the voters should pick a president and that president should pick the justices.”
Both sides have every reason to play for keeps though. Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life, and their ideological leanings shape the country beyond the presidential term in which they’re appointed. With Ginsburg dead, the court is split between three liberal and five conservative judges, though one of these conservatives, John Roberts, often sides with his liberal colleagues. Another conservative justice would secure that majority for the near future, as both liberal Stephen Breyer (82) and conservative Clarence Thomas (72) near retirement age.
Clinton accused Trump and McConnell of attempting to “jam the courts” with politically-friendly picks. However, should Trump and McConnell confirm another conservative to the bench, a number of Democrats have vowed to expand the court and fill it with their own ideological picks if they take power.
“If he holds a vote in 2020, we pack the court in 2021,” Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) tweeted on Saturday, adding “it’s that simple.” Kennedy spoke more directly than most Democrat politicians, but Schumer echoed his words later that day, telling a conference call of Senate Democrats “If Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year. Nothing is off the table.”
Of course, Schumer and Kennedy’s plan hinges on Democrats taking control of the Senate in November. Even with both houses of Congress, their task would be easier with Biden in the White House. For Democrats and for Republicans, Bader Ginsburg’s death has made November’s election all the more crucial.
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