Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Death of iconic justice opens up new front in election battle

Fight over successor will dominate remainder of election campaign  (Getty)
Fight over successor will dominate remainder of election campaign (Getty)

Battle lines are are being drawn following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon and mischievous celebrity, whose passing opened a new political war just weeks before the election.

Barely an hour after Chief Justice John Roberts announced the 87-year-old had died at home on Friday evening, surrounded by friends, from the complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer, Republicans began pushing for her replacement to be made before voters went to the polls.

Donald Trump himself has not yet weighed in on the matter. Speaking to reporters after a two-hour campaign speech in Minnesota, he appeared genuinely caught off guard by the news of her death.

“She just died? Wow. I didn't know that. She led an amazing life,” he said, preparing to board Air Force One. Shortly afterwards, he paid her an even more complimentary tribute, calling her “a fighter to the end”.

He added: “Renowned for her brilliant mind and her powerful dissents at the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg demonstrated that one can disagree without being disagreeable toward one’s colleagues or different points of view.”

Yet, plenty of others picked up the standard to demand Mr Trump step forward and select a successor, even though there are less than 50 days until election day.

In the spring of 2016, Barack Obama’s efforts to appoint Merick Garland as successor to the late Antonin Scalia were undermined by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who said because there was less than six months of his term left, he should wait until voters had weighed in.

Mr McConnell appeared to have no such concerns about waiting for voters to speak in the case of Ms Ginsburg. Even as crowds gathered outside the Supreme Court building in Washington DC to celebrate her life and work, Mr McConnell said he was ready to call a vote whenever Congress was presented with a nominee.

“President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,“ Mr McConnell said.

Texas senator Ted Cruz, who was named on a list of potential Supreme Court justices released by Mr Trump earlier this month, said it was “critical” that the Republican-controlled Senate moved quickly to replace her.

“I believe that the president should next week nominate a successor to the court, and I think it is critical that the Senate takes up and confirms that successor before Election day,” said Mr Cruz.

In contrast, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, leading Mr Trump by as many as seven points in national polls, said the decision about a replacement should be made by whoever wins in November.

“There is no doubt – let me be clear – that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider,” Mr Biden told reporters at an airport in New Castle, Delaware, after learning of her death.

His comments underscored the partisan fight all but certain over the future of the judiciary that could dominate the fewer than seven weeks remaining until the presidential election.

Reports suggest Ms Ginsburg would have approved of the fight being made to delay the appointment of her successor until after the election. NPR said that just days before her death, she said her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed”.

It said she made the her wishes known to her granddaughter, Clara Spera.

Mr Trump will be under intense pressure to act quickly.

Speaking on Friday before he was informed of her death, he talked of the power invested in a president by being able to select a justice to the court.

“That's why the Supreme Court is so important – the next president will get one, two, three, or four Supreme Court Justices. I had two,” he said.

There will be two factors driving Mr Trump’s thinking on making an appointment. One will be an an attempt to reach out to, and secure the support of, social conservatives ahead of November.

The other calculation will be that if he loses to Mr Biden, he will have already scuppered any hopes the Democrat may have to hit the ground running, by having to contend with three Trump appointees to the Supreme Court – the president has already secured Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – all of whom are appointed for life.

Agencies contributed to this report

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