The recent health scare and hospitalization of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has raised the prospect of a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year and a partisan battle royal that would likely surpass the impeachment fight.
Liberal activists are already calling on President Trump to keep any possible Supreme Court vacancy open until after the 2020 election. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated he would fill a court vacancy next year, even though he blocked former President Obama’s nominee for most of 2016 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
The GOP senator from Kentucky argued at the time that voters should have a chance to weigh in on the balance of the court.
Progressive groups have indicated that McConnell should apply that same thinking if there is a vacancy between now and Election Day.
“If we had a Supreme Court vacancy this year that Trump attempted to fill, it would be in the middle of an election year but not just any election year. It’s going to be a year in which Trump is likely to have been defending claims against abuse of power and obstruction of justice in an impeachment trial,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way, a progressive advocacy group.
“Public trust in his presidency is pretty low, so if there ever was a time for the argument that the American people should have a say in this election who the next Supreme Court justice is — as Mitch McConnell claimed after Justice Scalia died — this would be it. So I think it would be very controversial for that reason,” Baker added.
Conservative activists have challenged that argument, asserting that many voters in 2016 and 2018 were motivated by the future balance of the judiciary, giving Trump and Senate Republicans a mandate to confirm a Supreme Court pick during a presidential election year.
Ginsburg, 86, was released from Johns Hopkins Hospital last week after suffering from a fever. She has also had surgery for lung cancer and received treatment for pancreatic cancer in the past year.
Ginsburg in 2018 said she would stay on the court “as long as I’m healthy and mentally agile,” adding that she hoped to serve until at least 2023.