A Vacancy on the Supreme Court: What Can We Expect?

By Jordan Dopp | October 8, 2020

As many of you know, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the most renowned advocates for women’s rights, minorities, and underrepresented Americans, passed away on September 18, 2020. Her death, which devastated millions around the country and world, has created a vacancy in the Supreme Court: one that is very controversial.

Before understanding why there is a debate, it may be helpful to briefly summarize the standard process for filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court. The president is responsible for nominating a justice, who is then vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee. If all checks out when the justice is vetted, the Senate then votes on whether or not to confirm said justice. For a justice to be confirmed, they must get a simple majority: greater than 50%.

The reason this particular vacancy is such a source of contention is that in March of 2016 when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacancy, Senate Republicans blocked any and all efforts of the Democrats to fill the Supreme Court opening. Republican Senator Mitch McConnel, the Senate majority leader said, "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president." Lindsay Graham, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of the most vocal Senate Republicans in 2016, has already flipped his position on if a president in their last year should be able to nominate a Supreme Court Justice. Many Americans feel this is a clear demonstration of the partisan system and how it is not always fair and equal.

There is much that is unknown right now, such as whether all Senate Republicans are willing to confirm a new justice so close to the election, but the one thing that is for sure is that this will be a heated source of debate for the next few weeks as we near the election date.

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Jordan Dopp