What’s next with the Supreme Court vacancy: The risks and uncertainties

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican efforts to fill Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat after her death are likely to move swiftly this week, with President Donald Trump possibly nominating a replacement within days and GOP senators hoping to jump-start the confirmation process.

Ginsburg’s death in late September of an election year puts the Senate in uncharted political terrain. Trump has urged the Republican-run Senate to consider the nomination “without delay” but has not said whether he would push for a confirmation vote before Election Day.

There’s significant risk and uncertainty ahead for both parties. Early voting is underway in some states in the races for the White House and control of Congress.

A look at the confirmation process and what we know and don’t know about what’s to come:

WHAT’S NEXT?

Trump has said he will announce a female nominee to replace Ginsburg as soon as this week. As the Senate meets in the coming days, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be assessing his next steps, talking to his GOP colleagues and figuring out if he has enough votes to confirm a nominee before the election.

McConnell, R-Ky., has vowed that Trump’s nominee “will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate” but has been careful about not saying when that will happen.

Democrats say the Republicans’ vow to move forward is “hypocrisy” after McConnell refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, several months before the 2016 election. They have vowed to fight Trump and McConnell to keep the seat open but have not made clear how they will do so.

DOES McCONNELL HAVE THE VOTES TO FILL THE SEAT BEFORE THE ELECTION?

That’s not yet clear. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and so far Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have both said they won’t support a confirmation vote before Election Day.

That means McConnell can only afford to lose one more senator in his caucus. If the vote were 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence could break the tie on a confirmation vote.

WHO ARE THE SENATORS TO WATCH?

All eyes are on Mitt Romney of Utah, who has been critical of Trump and protective of the institution of the Senate. Another senator to watch is Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the former chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He said this summer that if he still chaired the committee and a vacancy occurred, “I would not have a hearing on it because that’s what I promised the people in 2016.”

Those facing close reelection contests in their states, including Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, will surely face pressure not to vote ahead of the election or in its immediate aftermath, especially if they were to lose their seats. Several other key GOP senators up for reelection — including Martha McSally in Arizona, Kelly Loeffler in Georgia and Thom Tillis in North Carolina — have already linked themselves to Trump, calling for swift voting. Collins is also in a competitive race.

WHAT DOES THE WHITE HOUSE SAY?

Marc Short, the chief of staff to Pence, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that a vote before Nov. 3 is “certainly possible” because Ginsburg was confirmed within 43 days and the election is 44 days away. But Short said the White House is leaving the confirmation timetable up to McConnell.

Asked whether Trump considered Ginsburg’s dying wish for her replacement to be named by the winner of the November presidential election, Short said the White House and nation mourn her loss “but the decision of when to nominate does not lie with her.”

CAN THE SENATE REALISTICALLY FILL THE SEAT BEFORE THE ELECTION?

Yes, but it would require a breakneck pace. Supreme Court nominations have taken around 70 days to move through the Senate, and the last, for Brett Kavanaugh, took longer. Some nominations, like Ginsburg’s, have moved more quickly.

There are no set rules for how long the process should take once Trump announces his pick.

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