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Where WI senators stood on SCOTUS appointment ahead of 2016 election

Published: Sep. 18, 2020 at 8:21 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died Friday evening at the age of 87 after complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Her death leaves a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court, which gives Republicans a chance to have a 6-3 majority.

With the 2020 Presidential Election being less than two months away, this SCOTUS appointment has parallels to President Barack Obama’s appointment of Judge Merrick Garland following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, also an election year.

At the time, the Republican Senate majority was determined to block this nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to act on Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the opening.

The seat remained vacant until after Trump’s presidential victory. McConnell has said he would move to confirm a Trump nominee if there were a vacancy this year.

McConnell mourned Justice Ginsburg’s death on Twitter, saying she overcame one personal challenge after another. He referenced the midterm election before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, saying they elected a Republican Senate majority because they “pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame duck president’s second term.”

McConnell plans for the Senate to vote on her replacement this year, despite it being an election year.

NBC15 spoke to analysts about this who say it comes as no surprise. “It will be interesting to see how some in the Republican senate react given that they’re in close races for re-election, so this will be a point of contention and may be a problem for some in the republican majority,” said Prof. Emeritus Richard Haven of UW-Whitewater.

He also says Justice Bader Ginsberg’s death could impact the polls with a possibility of more voters coming out to let their voices be heard. “This comes at a time where we’re in a very, very controversial divisive election so this will become a part of it so how it effect the election, how it effects turnout and people who want to vote because they see this as part of the process of electing the president,” said Prof. Haven.

In 2016, Sen. Ron Johnson reassured his fellow Republicans that he would be blocking President Obama’s nomination of Merrick B. Garland to the Supreme Court.

“We absolutely will not allow the Supreme Court to flip,” Mr. Johnson said in March of 2016.

Johnson even met with Garland in May of 2016, saying he enjoyed the meeting but his advice to President Obama and the rest of his colleagues had not changed.

“Instead of a lame duck president and Senate nominating and confirming, a new president and Senate – elected by the people only a few months from now – should make that important decision,” he said. “I can’t think of a fairer or more democratic process.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin was pleased that President Obama had offered Merrick Garland as a nominee for the SCOTUS in 2016 and said she would be reviewing his qualifications.

“In the spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation, I would encourage my Republican colleagues to give Judge Garland fair consideration,” Baldwin said in March of 2016."I believe the American people deserve to have a full and functioning Supreme Court working for them."

When Sen. Baldwin met with Garland, she said she was even more convinced that her fellow senators needed to do their job and "respect the president, the Constitution and the American people.

There is no word yet on any next steps for judicial appointment other than McConnell’s announcement.

Sen. Ron Johnson offered his condolences to Justice Ginsburg’s family on Friday.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin noted Ginsburg’s legacy saying she lived an “inspiring and historic life.”

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