Democrats and progressive activists vowed to eliminate the filibuster and possibly even expand the Supreme Court if Republicans fill the seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday from complications of cancer.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear he would move to confirm a replacement for the liberal icon despite blocking former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, in a presidential election year in 2016.
“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” McConnell said in a statement Friday night. The Kentucky Republican did not say whether that vote would take place before or after the Nov. 3 election.
Democrats said McConnell should wait and respect Ginsburg’s dying wish that the next president fill her seat. Some, however, threatened to eliminate the filibuster and possibly even pack the high court if the Democratic Party takes control of the White House and Senate next year.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said the Senate would “never, ever be the same” if Republicans fill Ginsburg’s seat this year, alluding to major changes. “It will be changed forever. I pray tonight that at least a few of my Republican colleagues understand this.”
“It is going to be very hard after the procedural violence that Mitch McConnell has inflicted on the Senate and the country for anyone to justify us playing it soft next year just to satisfy pundits,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) added on Twitter. “We must use the power that voters give us to deliver the change we are promising.”
Progressive activist Ady Barkan, an advocate for single-payer health care who is influential among Democrats, also called for changing the makeup of the Supreme Court.
Most Democrats were coming around to eliminating the filibuster even before Ginsburg’s death, a seismic event that could have significant consequences for this year’s presidential election, abortion rights and beyond. Republicans filling Ginsburg’s seat this year after blocking President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick in 2016 would likely only speed up that process.
The party would need 50 votes in the Senate to get rid of the filibuster. While there are still a handful of holdouts, the push to kill the upper chamber’s 60-vote threshold on legislation recently picked up momentum with a boost from Obama himself, who said that getting rid of the procedural hurdle would be a fitting way to pay homage to Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights and voting rights icon who died in July.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, a longtime defender of the rule, said in July that “you have to just take a look at it” and it would “depend on how obstreperous they become,” referring to Senate Republicans.
Biden said Friday that his position on the Supreme Court vacancy is the same as the one taken by Republicans “in 2016 when there were almost 10 months to go before the election.”
“Let me be clear that the voters should pick the president, and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider,” Biden added.