Grassley says ‘the American people’s will’ is clear and Trump can fill SCOTUS vacancy before election; Ernst agrees

Illustration by Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Sen. Chuck Grassley said on Monday he will support President Trump’s effort to confirm a new U.S, Supreme Court justice as quickly as possible. In a statement first published by the Des Moines Register, Grassley said there is no ambiguity “about the American people’s will for the direction of the Supreme Court.”

Grassley said “ambiguity” about the will of the people existed in 2016, when he took a leading role in denying any hearing to Judge Merrick Garland, who President Obama nominated to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Obama’s nomination of Garland came eight months before the general election in 2016. Trump’s nomination of a person to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will occur less than two months before this year’s general election.

According to Grassley, there was a lack of clarity about the will of the American people regarding the Supreme Court in 2016, because Obama was a Democrat and a majority of senators were Republicans. Since Trump is a Republican, as are a majority of senators, the people’s will is clear to Grassley this time.

“While there was ambiguity about the American people’s will for the direction of the Supreme Court in 2016 under a divided government, there is no such ambiguity in 2020,” Grassley said in his statement.

Grassley did not address whether the fact that national polls consistently find Trump losing to Democrat Joe Biden should be interpreted as sign of ambiguity. He also did not address whether Trump losing the popular vote in 2016 — Clinton received 2.87 million more votes than Trump — means the president’s judgment regarding a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court may not be the same as a majority of Americans.

Speaking to Fox News on Monday morning, Trump offered a blunter assessment of what the difference between 2016 and 2020 than Grassley did.

“Obama did not have the Senate,” Trump said. “When you have the Senate, you can sort of do what you want.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, President Trump and Sen. Joni Ernst pose for a photo after the 2020 State of the Union address. — via Joni Ernst on Twitter

Grassley suggested in his statement that despite being the most senior member of the Republican majority in the Senate (and therefore Senate president pro tempore and third in the line of succession for the presidency), the decision to move forward with the nomination is beyond his influence.

Grassley said his position has always been that “taking up and evaluating a nominee in 2020 would be a decision for the current chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Senate Majority Leader. Both have confirmed their intentions to move forward, so that’s what will happen. Once the hearings are underway, it’s my responsibility to evaluate the nominee on the merits, just as I always have.”

Sen. Joni Ernst also put out a statement on Monday afternoon regarding Trump’s plan to have the Senate vote on a Supreme Court nominee before the Nov. 3 election. Like Grassley, Ernst portrayed herself an essentially someone with little power over the process.

We have much to consider over the coming days. The Supreme Court plays a fundamental role in the defense of our Constitution and in the protection of our rights and liberties. Once the president puts forward his nominee for the Supreme Court, I will carry out my duty — as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee — to evaluate the nominee for our nation’s highest court.

Of course, both senators actually have tremendous leverage at the moment regarding the Supreme Court vacancy. Two Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have already said they are opposed to moving forward with a nomination before the election. The Republicans only hold 53 seats in the Senate, so if two more Republicans declare they are opposed to a vote, it would either fail or not take place.

But neither Grassley not Ernst has voted against Trump on any issue considered important by the White House, and both have voted to approve everyone Trump has nominated for federal office, including a record-setting number of judicial nominees rated as “not qualified” by the American Bar Association.

In his statement, Grassley did not address what he would do if the vote on the nominee came after the election and Trump lost or the Republicans lost their majority, or both. Ernst has already said she would be in favor of the Senate voting on a Trump nominee in those circumstances.

“I would support going ahead with any hearings that we might have, and if it comes to an appointment prior to the end of the year, I’d be supportive of that,” she said on Iowa Press in July, when asked about such a scenario. “We would need to have some very serious discussion about that.”

“But again, it is — even though it is a lame-duck session — it is still a Republican president and still a Republican Senate.”

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