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Top court thrust into US political battle

By Ai Heping in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-09-21 09:16

As election looms, judge's death ignites dispute over who picks her replacement

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg [Photo/Agencies]

Days before US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday, she dictated a statement to her granddaughter: "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."

That is unlikely to happen. The vacancy left by the death of one of the court's liberal stalwarts, was pushed into the United States presidential campaign as soon as her death was announced by the nation's highest court.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement: "President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate."

Replacing Ginsburg, who died at the age of 87 from cancer, will give US President Donald Trump the chance to put a third conservative justice on the court, giving conservatives a 6-to-3 majority.

On Saturday, Trump said he expected a nominee to replace Ginsburg to be announced this week, and that it will "most likely" be a woman.

Trump's desire "to move quickly" on the process, despite Democrats' vehement opposition, is likely to dominate the campaigns-alongside other hot-button issues such as the coronavirus and the US' racial reckoning-over the next six weeks.

"I think it's going to move quickly, actually," Trump told reporters outside the White House on Saturday.

On Friday, Democrats immediately called for the Senate to wait until after the presidential election.

"Let me be clear, that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider," Democratic nominee Joe Biden said.

Simple majority

Supreme Court nominees can now be confirmed by a simple majority of the Senate after McConnell changed the rules in 2017 to overcome a Democratic filibuster of Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the high court.

In 2016, McConnell refused to even hold a hearing for then-president Barack Obama's nominee to the court, Merrick Garland. At the time, he said voters should decide in the upcoming election which president should choose the next Supreme Court justice because the Senate and the White House were controlled by different parties.

McConnell now argues the situation is different because Republicans control both the White House and the Senate.

Biden and Trump were completing campaign visits in Minnesota on Friday when Ginsburg's death was announced.

For more than 90 minutes after news of her death broke, Trump, speaking at a rally in Bemidji in the state, was seemingly unaware of the news. In ending the rally, he spoke on the importance of the Supreme Court's direction in the election.

"We will nominate judges and justices who interpret the Constitution as written," Trump told the crowd. The next president "will have anywhere from one to four" vacancies on the Supreme Court to fill, he said.

"Think of that," said Trump, warning that conservatives would be "stuck" for decades with a Supreme Court they did not like if the Democrats won in Nov 3.

"This is going to be the most important election, in my opinion, in the history of our country."

In announcing Ginsburg's death, the Supreme Court said it was caused by complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas. Ginsburg died at her home in Washington surrounded by family, the court said.

"Our nation has lost a justice of historic stature," said the Chief Justice John Roberts in the statement. "We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her, a tireless and resolute champion of justice."

On Saturday, mourners gathered at makeshift memorials around the country.

Visitors to the Supreme Court, many with young children in tow, left flowers and signs during the day.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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