“As always, Senate Democrats stand ready to expeditiously fill any potential vacancies on the Supreme Court should they arise,” Schumer said in a letter to his caucus, laying out his priorities for the Senate’s coming work period.
It’s an odd thing to say. There are no vacancies on the court. Obviously, if there were, Democrats would move quickly to fill one. And his comment comes at a time when progressive groups are increasingly pressuring Justice Stephen Breyer to retire to make sure President Joe Biden can pick his replacement and Democrats can confirm that nominee while they control the Senate.
Democratic senators, including Schumer, have been mostly mum about whether they think Breyer, 82, should retire to make way for a Biden pick. Breyer was appointed by President Bill Clinton and has been on the court for nearly 27 years.
Schumer’s comments on Friday certainly felt like a nudge on Breyer.
But a spokesperson for Schumer told HuffPost that his statement was not intended to pressure Breyer to step down. Instead, the spokesperson said, it was part of a scheduling announcement to let people know the kinds of issues senators are prepared to act on during the upcoming busy work period.
Here’s a copy of Schumer’s “Dear Colleague” letter to his caucus.
Senate Republicans have burned Democrats twice in filling Supreme Court vacancies.
In 2016, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made the unprecedented decision to deny a Supreme Court seat to President Barack Obama for nearly a year, saying it was because it was a presidential election year. McConnell and Republicans kept the seat empty until Donald Trump was in the White House and could fill it with a GOP-backed nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Then, in 2020, McConnell broke from his own supposed standard for confirming Supreme Court nominees ― expediting confirmation of another Trump Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett, just weeks before the 2020 presidential election.
McConnell seems intent on preventing Biden from filling a Supreme Court vacancy, too. In an interview last month with conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt, McConnell said it’s “highly unlikely” he would let Biden fill a vacancy in 2024 if Republicans regain the Senate ― and possibly even sooner than that.