The ideological makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court and how a potential vacancy would be filled are often especially important issues during election years — and 2020 is no exception.
As The Hill reported, speculation is growing over whether President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Senate would move to immediately fill the seat if a justice announces their retirement. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) hinted this week that his party would go ahead with confirmation hearings if the situation arises.
Possibility of a “strategic retirement”
Three current justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Breyer, and Clarence Thomas, are each over 70, making them the likeliest to step down due to age or health concerns.
Thomas, a conservative, has served on the court for longer than any other current justice, having been nominated and confirmed in 1991. Some pundits have speculated that he could stage a “strategic retirement,” thus allowing a Republican President Donald Trump to select a jurist with similar views as his replacement.
He has gone on the record multiple times to assert that he has no plans to retire anytime soon, however, and some of his closest associates have confirmed that he has expressed no such intentions.
Ginsburg, 87, is the oldest person on the court and has gone through a well-documented series of health issues in recent years, as People magazine has reported. The liberal justice has been resilient, though, and would be unlikely to voluntarily step down while Trump is president.
Similarly, 81-year-old Breyer is on the court’s liberal wing and is not expected to give the president an opportunity to select a more conservative candidate as his replacement. He has no known serious medical issues and has indicated that he plans to continue serving on the court for the foreseeable future.
“Garland was a different situation”
Much of the speculation surrounding a potential vacancy this year stems from Democratic complaints about the 2016 decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) not to entertain confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, then-President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Antonin Scalia.
“They’re not troubled by inconsistencies,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said of Republican leaders, according to Politico. “It would be completely inconsistent with everything that was said [in 2016]. But we knew when they were saying it they didn’t mean it. We knew that was a situational answer.”
McConnell, however, asserted that 2020 is a different situation and expressed an intention to go forward with the confirmation process if such a situation arises in the next several months.
“Well, Merrick Garland was a different situation,” he said last week, according to The Hill. “You had the president of one party nominating, and you had the Senate in the hands of the other party. A situation where you’ve got them both would be different. I don’t want to speculate, but I think appointing judges is a high priority for me in 2020.”
Of course, all of this discussion is entirely speculative at this point. Nevertheless, many Trump supporters are sure to approve of any plan that would allow the current president to pick another justice for the nation’s highest court.