HELENA — Republican U.S. Sen Steve Daines says the Senate should “move forward” to confirm President Trump’s nominee to succeed the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – although in 2016, he opposed confirming a court nominee in an election year.
Ginsburg died Friday evening, creating a vacancy that can be filled by Trump’s nominee. That nominee would have to be confirmed by a majority of the U.S. Senate, which is controlled 53-47 by Republicans.
Montana Democrats – including Gov. Steve Bullock, who’s challenging Daines in Montana’s U.S. Senate race this year – are saying Daines and fellow Republicans should follow the stance they took four years ago.
After the February 2016 death of conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans said a court vacancy shouldn’t be filled during an election year, because American voters should decide the next president and therefore who should fill the high court vacancy.
U.S. Senate Republicans used their majority power to refuse to consider then-President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the Scalia seat.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has made it clear he has no intention of following that course this year, saying Republicans will move quickly to confirm whoever Trump nominates.
If they succeed, they would replace Ginsburg, part of the court’s liberal minority, with a conservative, creating a 6-3 conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court that’s likely to remain for at least a generation. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life.
Daines said Sunday he agrees with that course of action.
“If (Democratic presidential nominee) Joe Biden is elected, he will nominate, with the support of Steve Bullock, a liberal, activist justice who will threaten our Montana way of life,” Daines said.
In February 2016, on an appearance on MTN’s Face the State, Daines said “I don’t think it’s right to bring a Supreme Court nominee in an election year.”
He said a Supreme Court seat hadn’t been filed in an election year, with a “divided government” since 1888 and that the voters should decide in the 2016 election which presidential candidate should choose the justice to fill the vacancy.
Of course, Republican Donald Trump won the 2016 election and nominated conservative replacements for both Scalia and, later, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired in 2018.
Now that Trump is the one nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year, Daines is not saying the Senate should wait.
Last month, in a debate with Bullock, Daines said the U.S. Senate should vote this year to fill any U.S. Supreme Court vacancy – even if it occurred after the election, and a new president had been selected.
“It’s our duty to move forward, in filling vacancies on the Supreme Court,” he said.
Daines’ office said the circumstances are different this year, in that Trump is up for re-election, rather than being in his final year as president, as was Obama in 2016. It also noted that the Republican Party controls both the presidency and Senate this year, whereas the power was split in 2016, with a Democrat in the White House and Republicans controlling the Senate.
It said when this division of power occurs, the U.S. Senate hasn’t confirmed a Supreme Court justice in an election year since 1888.
Bullock, in a statement Saturday, said the U.S. Senate should follow the precedent set by McConnell and Republicans like Daines in 2016, and wait until after the inauguration of the next president.
“Given (that) many Americans have already started to vote, including Montana active military service members and those overseas, we should let Montanans and the American people determine who they want to nominate and confirm the next justice to this lifetime appointment,” he said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said essentially the same thing Saturday.
“There isn’t a separate set of rules for Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “We should follow the precedent McConnell set, and fill this vacancy when the next president and Senate are sworn in, regardless of who wins.”
Four years ago, when Justice Scalia died and Republicans blocked Obama’s nominee, Tester said the election process should not stop the Senate from doing its job of voting on Supreme Court nominees.
When asked Monday why that latter view doesn’t prevail now, Tester’s office said he was objecting to Republicans changing the normal procedure four years ago – and that if Republicans want to change the rules, they shouldn’t just change them back because the president is now a Republican.