Fiery start to senate battle ahead of Trump’s supreme court choice
The retirement announcement of Justice Anthony Kennedy sent shockwaves through Washington.
The US senate battle over Donald Trump’s supreme court nominee is off to a fiery start — even before the president makes his choice.
Republican and Democratic leaders have traded accusations and barbed comments on the new vacancy, abortion rights and the debate to come.
Both sides are quickly mobilising after Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose votes have been key in deciding cases on abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, guns, campaign finance and voting rights, sent shockwaves through Washington by announcing his retirement plans.
Republicans are pressing for speedy action – assuming Mr Trump makes a quick announcement of his choice – but Democrats argue that the confirmation action should be put on hold until after the November midterm elections.
The Democrats are citing the Republicans’ senate leader Mitch McConnell’s successful block of then-president Barack Obama’s nominee to the court, Merrick Garland, in 2016. Republicans argued the seat should be left open because it was a presidential election year.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said it would be the “height of hypocrisy” to vote on Mr Trump’s nominee before this year’s election.
“If the Senate’s constitutional duty to advise and consent is just as important as the president’s right to nominate, which the Constitution says it is, why should a midterm election be any less important that a presidential election?” Mr Schumer said.
Majority Leader McConnell fired back, saying the situations are not the same.
“This is not 2016,” he said.
“There aren’t the final months of a second-term constitutionally lame duck presidency with a presidential election fast approaching. We’re right in the middle of this president’s very first term.”
Mr Trump said he would start the effort to replace Justice Kennedy “immediately” and would choose from a list of 25 names that he updated last year. McConnell declared that the senate will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this autumn.
With Justice Kennedy’s departure, Republicans have a longed-for opportunity to tip the balance of the court. It already has four justices picked by Democratic presidents and four picked by Republicans, so Mr Trump’s choice could shift the ideological balance toward conservatives for years to come.
If Republicans unite behind Mr Trump’s selection, there is little Democrats can do to stop it. Republicans changed the senate rules last year so that supreme court nominees cannot be filibustered, meaning only 51 votes will be required for confirmation.