WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats, who have defended the last three Supreme Court vacancies, plan to move quickly to replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, using a 2020 quick confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett as the new standard.
Barrett was confirmed exactly one month after then-President Donald Trump nominated her to replace the late Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg — and just five weeks after Ginsburg’s death in September of that year. Democrats then scathingly criticized the timeline, arguing that most confirmations took much longer and that Republicans were trying to push through the nomination in case Trump lost re-election.
But now that they’re holding the presidency and the Senate, albeit barely, Democrats navigating the complex politics of the 50-50 House expect a similarly fast timetable, even if Breuer doesn’t officially resign before the summer.
In their statements, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., made it clear that they will act quickly once President Joe Biden makes his choice. Biden said as a candidate that if given the chance to nominate someone to court, he would make history by choosing a black woman. The White House confirmed Biden’s campaign promise after he was elected.
Schumer said the nomination “will be considered and approved by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed.” Durbin said he hoped for a “quick” promotion of the nomination through the committee.
The nomination offers a reset chance for Biden and the Democratic Senate after Barrett’s confirmation left the court with a new 6-3 Conservative majority and as they struggled to pass key items on Biden’s political agenda. Democrats are hoping to replace the 83-year-old liberal justice without complications, and some Republicans may want to back Biden’s candidacy. But the leaders of the Democratic Party are well aware that the death or illness of even one person in their ranks can overturn control of the Senate and destroy their plans.
The Senate plans to begin the confirmation process as soon as Biden nominates, regardless of when Breuer formally steps down, according to a Senate aide who was not authorized to discuss the planning publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Democrats can quickly hold committee hearings and even get a full Senate vote before Breyer resigns, the aide said. The Senate will simply refrain from sending the final confirmation vote documents to the president until after Breyer resigns.
With such a small majority, Schumer will face intense pressure to keep his assembly united. Two moderate Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, have repeatedly opposed their party for political purposes and might have opposed a Supreme Court nominee if they thought the man was too liberal.
In a statement, Manchin said he takes the Senate’s role in advising and agreeing on nominees to the Supreme Court “very seriously” and looks forward to meeting and evaluating a possible nominee.
At the same time, Democrats will hope for a handful of Republican votes. For example, Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voted last year to confirm U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, one of Biden’s possible nominees.
In a statement on Wednesday, Graham indicated that he was unlikely to support Biden’s choice, whoever he is.
“If all Democrats stick together — and I expect they will — they can replace Judge Breyer in 2022 without a single Republican vote,” Graham said. “Elections have consequences, and this is most evident when it comes to filling vacancies on the Supreme Court.”
For the first time in more than 11 years, Democrats will win a majority in the Senate and the opportunity to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Since Judge Elana Kagan was confirmed in 2010, the GOP-led Senate has confirmed three judges, all of whom have been nominated for Trump’s term: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Coney Barrett.
All three confirmation battles have been fierce for Democrats.
Gorsuch was confirmed a year after Republicans blocked the choice of President Barack Obama to serve on the court, now Attorney General Merrick Garland. Kavanaugh was confirmed after a harrowing hearing in which school acquaintance Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexually abusing her; Cavanaugh angrily denied this.
Barrett was confirmed in 2020, replacing Liberal icon Ginsburg and rebalancing the court.
As the roles reversed, both sides became dissatisfied with the increasingly partisan battles for confirmation.
“Whoever is appointed president will be treated fairly, with the dignity and respect that a person of his or her caliber deserves, which has not been allowed to Judge Kavanaugh and other Republican candidates in the past,” said Republican Senator John Cornyn. from Texas, which is on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky declined to comment on Breyer’s retirement, saying he doesn’t want to “put the cart before the horse” before justice makes a formal announcement.
“He has the right to do it whenever he wants,” McConnell told reporters at an event in his home state. “And when he does, I will have an answer for his long and distinguished career.”
Democratic senators quickly joined the effort to make Biden’s election historic – the first black woman to serve as a judge.
“The Court should reflect the diversity of our country, and it is unacceptable that never in the history of our country has a black woman sat on the Supreme Court of the United States – I want to change that,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the third Democrat.
Durbin said Biden “has an opportunity to nominate someone who will bring diversity, experience and an even-handed approach to the administration of justice.”
In addition to Jackson, other potential candidates are California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Krueger and U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs, whom Biden appointed as an appellate court judge. Childs is the favorite of Rep. James Clyburn, DS.C., who strongly endorsed Biden just before the state’s 2020 presidential primaries.
Many of Biden’s nominations for judges reflected his promise to diversify the federal judiciary both racially and professionally. He will also face some pressure to appoint a younger judge who could shape the court for decades, which is Trump’s main consideration for his judicial election. Jackson is 51, Childs is 55 and Krueger is 45.
Ahead of the South Carolina primary that led him to the Democratic nomination, Biden stressed that he “looks forward to making sure there’s a black woman on the Supreme Court to make sure we actually get every representation.” ”
Associated Press contributor Kevin Fracking contributed to this report.