Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham lamented the bygone days of bipartisan Supreme Court confirmation processes and defended the Senate GOP’s decision to move ahead with Donald Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the bench as “constitutional” at his opening statement on Monday.
The chairman noted that the Senate confirmed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose seat Ms Barrett would fill, by a bipartisan 96-3 vote.
The conservative legal icon Antonin Scalia received 98 votes in his favour.
“I don’t know what happened between then and now,” Mr Graham said.
“There was a time in this country where someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg was seen by almost everybody as qualified for the position of being on the Supreme Court, understanding that she would have a different philosophy than many of the Republicans who voted for her,” he said.
Democrats have harangued Senate Republicans for moving ahead with the Barrett nomination just days before the 2020 presidential election after refusing to hold hearings for Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, more than seven months out from the 2016 election.
Mr Graham went on the record multiple times over the last four years saying he would not conduct hearings to seat a Supreme Court nominee in an election year like he’s doing now.
But on Monday, he defended the Barrett confirmation process as constitutional.
“Bottom line here is that the Senate is doing its duty constitutionally,” Mr Graham said.
“There have been 19 vacancies filled in election years. Seventeen of the 19 were confirmed to the court when the party of the president and the Senate were the same.”
To his Democratic colleagues, Mr Graham sent a message urging them to keep the hearing “respectful” to Ms Barrett, whose family was in the hearing room on Monday.
“To the extent possible. Let’s make it respectful, let’s make it challenging. Let’s remember the world is watching,” Mr Graham said.
Democrats on the panel sought to do two things at the hearing on Monday:
First, they highlighted Senate Republicans’ hypocrisy for shutting down the 2016 Supreme Court nomination process until after that year’s election to “give the American people a voice” in the decision, only to rush through Ms Barrett’s confirmation four years later.
Second, they tried to warn Americans that Ms Barrett’s confirmation would effectively serve to “dismantle” the 2010 health care overhaul known as Obamacare, fulfilling a promise from Mr Trump to do so by appointing judges. Senate Democrats each told personal stories of people with pre-existing conditions who have benefited from Obamacare’s policies.
“We shouldn’t be holding a hearing three weeks before the presidential election, when millions of Americans have already voted,” Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said.
“Think of it, my Republican colleagues: literally half of the Senate had to break their word, contradicting every argument they made four years ago about the American people needing a voice during election year vacancies,” Mr Leahy said.
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