Mitch McConnell says he will confirm a Supreme Court nominee in 2020

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When ANTONIN SCALIA died suddenly in 2016, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, wasted no time laying out the Republican position on the conservative lawyer’s successor. A few hours after the news of Mr. Scalia’s death, Mr. McConnell said that “the American people should have a voice in choosing their next justice on the Supreme Court”. With nearly nine months to go before the presidential election, he told America that his legislative chamber would take no action on any Supreme Court nominee nominated by Barack Obama. “This vacancy”, he said, expressing a broad principle, “should not be filled until we have a new president.”

It was an aggressive move. The constitution gives presidents the power to appoint federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, and requires the “advice and consent” of the Senate before they take their seats. But Mr. McConnell took the unprecedented step of building a barricade around Scalia’s seat rather than giving a hearing to Merrick Garland, the middle chief justice of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals nominated by Mr. Obama. After stonewalling Judge Garland for the remaining 11 months of Mr. Obama’s term, the Republican Senate eagerly embraced Donald Trump’s nominee, senior conservative Neil Gorsuch. It was confirmed on April 7, 2017.

McConnell’s gambit had been a huge success: instead of a Democratic president replacing one of the court’s most right-wing justices with a left-wing justice, Mr. Scalia’s seat was filled by a 49-year-old originalist who defends his ‘ most conservative. . But would the new principle of rejecting Supreme Court nominations in presidential election years hold? Former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said in 2018 that he would honor the 2016 rule and remove himself from presiding over a Supreme Court confirmation hearing if the shoe was worn. ‘ another leg in 2020. “If I’m chairman, they won’t raise it”, said Mr Grassley, “because I promised that in 2016”. Lindsey Graham, Mr Grassley’s successor as chairman, has accept this commitment. “If there is an opening in the last year of President Trump’s term and the primary process has begun”, said Mr. Graham in 2018, “we will wait until the next selected”.

In the past, Mr. McConnell has hedged when asked if he agrees with current and former Judiciary Committee chairs. But on May 28, during a speech to the Chamber of Commerce in Paducah, Kentucky, his home state, the senator made his position clear. “If a Supreme Court justice dies next year, what would you do?”, he was asked. Mr McConnell took a long sip of iced tea and smiled: “Oh, I’d fill it”, he said, laughing. The importance of policy issues, he said, “What cannot be done is the lifelong career of a young man or woman who believes in the quaint idea that a judge’s job is to follow the law. That’s the most important thing we’ve done for the country.”

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, took to Twitter to accuse the majority leader of hypocrisy. In response, Mr. McConnell now says that his no-hearing rule only applies when the Senate and the White House are controlled by different parties. But he tries to justify a change of policy, it seems that Mr. McConnell is not under accusations of inconsistency. If a vacancy opens up on the Supreme Court before the 2020 election, Mr. McConnell will fill it immediately. The principle seems to count for very little. But votes count, and he has 53 to the Democrats’ 47.

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