Trump wants to move 'without delay' to replace Ginsburg, setting up epic fight over Supreme Court before election

  • The president's statement follows Ginsburg's death on Friday evening. 
  •  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday pledged he will hold a vote on Trump's eventual nominee to fill the vacancy.
  • The Supreme Court had a 5-4 majority of Republican appointed justices.
  • A 6-3 GOP majority could transform the shape of the law and maintain a conservative majority for years.
  • The vacant seat on the court raises the stakes in the presidential contest between Trump and former Vice President Joseph Biden.

President Donald Trump on Saturday said he wants to move "without delay" to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a conservative nominee. The president's statement follows Ginsburg's death on Friday evening. 

Trump tweeted that Republicans "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 is expected to quickly name a conservative replacement. Only an hour after the Supreme Court announced Ginsburg's death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday pledged he will hold a vote on Trump's eventual nominee to fill the vacancy. McConnell said last year he would seek to confirm a Trump nominee if a vacancy opened, despite vowing during President Barack Obama's presidency to refuse any appointments during an election year. 

Ginsburg's death has set up a contentious political battle that could define the makeup of the nation's highest judicial body for a generation to come, providing Trump an opportunity to place a third member on the Court just weeks before the November election.  

The Supreme Court had a 5-4 majority of Republican appointed justices, and a 6-3 GOP majority could transform the shape of the law and maintain a conservative majority for years.

The now vacant seat on the court also raises the stakes in an already chaotic presidential campaign between Trump and former Vice President Joseph Biden, which has been defined by the worst public health crisis in a century, the deepest economic recession since the Great Depression and widespread social unrest over racial inequality and policing in America. 

Ginsburg, a feminist icon who championed women's rights, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 and vowed to remain as long as her health allowed. Ginsburg told her granddaughter before she died that her "most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed." 

Trump has touted his previous nominees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, as major accomplishments of his first term as president. The president last week issued a new list of 20 potential Supreme Court picks, a strategy he employed during his 2016 campaign. 

The timing of a floor vote to pick a nominee is unclear. It takes on average roughly 70 days from the date of nomination to a confirmation vote, according to the Congressional Research Service. Senate Republicans hold a 53-seat majority, so the party can only have three defections, assuming that all Senate Democrats vote against Trump's eventual nominee. 

Biden, who has served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Friday night that the vacancy should not be filled until after the November election and noted that Senate Republicans didn't consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland during the Obama presidency. 

"There is no doubt — let me be clear — that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider," Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware.  "This was the position the Republican Senate took in 2016 when there were almost 10 months to go before the election. That's the position the United States Senate must take today."

Senate Democrats are expected to hold a conference call at 1:00 pm Saturday to discuss the vacancy, according to a Democratic aide. 

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said that "under no circumstances" should the Senate fill the vacancy until after the presidential inauguration. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also said that voters should have a say in selecting the next Supreme Court justice and the vacancy shouldn't be filled until there's a new president. 

"Senator McConnell made his position clear in 2016 when he held Justice Scalia's seat vacant for 10 months so he could deny President Obama an appointment – a goal he himself admitted," Feinstein said in a statement. "To jam through a lifetime appointment to the country's highest court – particularly to replace an icon like Justice Ginsburg – would be the height of hypocrisy."

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