September 19, 2020 1:08 pm
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people favor confirmation hearings for supreme court vacancy in 2020 poll

A new poll conducted shortly before the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg revealed that an overwhelming majority of U.S. adults of all political stripes supported holding hearings for a nominee if a vacancy opened on the nation’s highest bench.

Marquette University released the survey results on Saturday that showed 67% of adults believed the Senate should hold a hearing if a vacancy occurred during 2020’s race, with only 32% opposition — and similar strong numbers across Republicans, Democrats, and independents, who supported holding confirmation hearings at 68-31%, 63-37%, and 71-28% respectively. The poll was completed three days before the death of Ginsburg, the 87-year-old liberal icon who was nominated by President Bill Clinton and confirmed in 1993. Ginsburg earned praise from Democrats and Republicans upon news of her death.

Ginsburg’s death in the middle of 2020’s election drew comparisons to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the 79-year-old conservative icon, Ronald Reagan appointee, and longtime Ginsburg friend, who died in February 2016 during the Democratic and Republican primaries. President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, to fill Scalia’s vacancy that March. But Senate Republicans declined to hold confirmation hearings or a vote, arguing that they wouldn’t confirm a justice appointed by a lame-duck president of the opposite party and that the winner in the 2016 election should fill the vacancy.

The new poll showed that the majority of U.S. adults disagreed with blocking Garland’s nomination, with 45% of Republicans saying it was right not to hold hearings for Garland and 54% saying it was wrong, while only 15% of Democrats thought it was right and 84% thought it was wrong, with 20-78% among independents. The poll was conducted between Sept. 8 and Sept. 15 with 1,523 adults nationwide interviewed online and a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

With Ginsburg’s death, a lot of scrutiny is being placed on what President Trump and others have said over the years about nominating and voting on a Supreme Court pick amid an election year, particularly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Friday evening that he would put up a Trump nominee for a vote in the upper chamber.

Back in 2016, Trump said, “I think the next president should make the pick, and I think they shouldn’t go forward, and I believe I’m pretty much in line with what the Republicans are saying.”

Fast forward to Saturday. “GOP — We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!” Trump tweeted.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who would schedule a confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court nominee, indicated that he would proceed with one if Trump selects a nominee. “I fully understand where President @realDonaldTrump is coming from,” the South Carolina Republican tweeted in response to Trump.

Obama said in 2016 that “to suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn’t even deserve a hearing let alone an up or down vote to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court — when two-thirds of Americans believe otherwise — that would be unprecedented.” He wrote on Friday that Ginsburg “left instructions for how she wanted her legacy to be honored.”

NPR reported Ginsburg said that her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” She said in 2016 that “the president is elected for four years, not three years. … Maybe members of the Senate will wake up and appreciate that that’s how it should be.”

Large majorities of supporters of Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told Marquette University’s pollsters the next Supreme Court appointment was somewhat or very important, with 85% of Trump supporters and 89% of Biden supporters saying so. Only 41% of adults said senators would be justified in voting against a qualified nominee “simply because of how they believe the Justice would decide cases on issues such as abortion, gun control or affirmative action,” while 58% said it wasn’t justified. A smaller number (21%) said a senator would be justified in voting against a nominee solely because of the president’s political party, while 78% said it wouldn’t be.

Biden said Friday that “the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider.” During a 2016 speech, he said Garland “deserves a hearing” and that it was a “matter of the Senate fulfilling its constitutional responsibility.”

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in 2016 that “Senate GOP members need to attend meetings, hearings, and vote on Judge Garland.” The senator said Friday, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” Those two lines were copied from comments by McConnell in 2016.

“In the last midterm election before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president’s second term,” McConnell said on Friday. “Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year. … President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”