Government

Supreme Court opening will upend election

Grassley in July: 'Could not process' a pick now

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, begins his questions on March 22, 2017, for Neil Gorsuch during the third day of hearings b
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, begins his questions on March 22, 2017, for Neil Gorsuch during the third day of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee for Gorsuch to become a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Grassley, who is now chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time. (The Gazette)

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday cast an immediate spotlight on the court vacancy, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowing to bring President Donald Trump’s nominee to a vote with just over six weeks before the election.

McConnell, in a statement released just over an hour after Ginsburg’s death was announced, declared unequivocally that Trump’s nominee would receive a vote, even though the Republican-controlled Senate did not give President Barack Obama’s pick a vote in the months ahead of the 2016 election.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who lead the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time and refused to call a hearing for Obama choice Merrick Garland, told The Gazette as recently as July that — if he were still chair of the committee — he would follow the same precedent he did then.

In 2016, following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, Grassley incurred the wrath of liberals when he put Obama’s nomination on hold for months until after the presidential election.

“If I were chairing the committee, based on what I told people in 2016, I could not process (the nomination),” he said in July when concerns about Ginsburg’s health arose.

Grassley remains a member of the Judiciary Committee, which also includes Joni Ernst, Iowa’s other Republican senator who faces election.

In July, Ernst told The Gazette she believed 2020 is different from 2016 when there was a Democratic president and a Republican-controlled Senate “so we were divided on who that selection would be.”

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With Republicans now in control of both the White House and Senate, “I don’t see there would be any difference between the president and the Senate on a selection of a Supreme Court justice,” Ernst said then. “There’s likely not to be a lot of disagreement when it comes to the selection of a justice.”

Nonetheless, the opening is poised to upend the presidential election, further stirring passions on a deeply divided nation as the campaign pushed into its stretch run.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who at the time presided over Ginsburg’s confirmation process in the Senate, said late Friday that the process must wait until after the election.

“Voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider,” he said.

Trump took the stage for a Minnesota rally a few minutes before Ginsburg’s death was announced. He spoke for more than 90 minutes, never mentioning it, apparently not alerted to the development.

But he did say that whomever was elected in November would have the ability to potentially fill several Supreme vacancies, declaring, “This is going to be the most important election in the history of our country and we have to get it right.”

James Q. Lynch of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.

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