WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. Congress on Wednesday slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for promising to fill a Supreme Court vacancy if one occurs during the 2020 presidential election year, after he refused to do so in 2016 because of that year’s upcoming election.
“We’d fill it,” McConnell declared when asked during a speech on Tuesday what he would do if Republican President Donald Trump had the opportunity next year to pick a third Supreme Court justice.
McConnell made his remarks in his home state of Kentucky to the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce.
In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a member of the House of Representatives’ Democratic leadership, said of McConnell, “He’s a shameless individual” and accused him of “stealing a Supreme Court seat” in 2016.
Late on Tuesday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, in response to McConnell’s remarks, said on Twitter: “Senator McConnell is a hypocrite.”
In February, 2016, McConnell, a Republican, enraged Democrats by refusing to consider then-President Barack Obama’s choice of federal Judge Merrick Garland to serve on the Supreme Court following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Instead, McConnell said the Senate would hold off pending the results of the November, 2016 presidential election. Trump defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in that contest, paving the way for him to choose someone other than Garland for the Supreme Court seat.
Had Garland been confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, he would have tipped the court in a liberal direction.
Instead, Scalia’s seat remained vacant until the swearing in of conservative Neil Gorsuch in April, 2017, just months after Trump was sworn in as president.
In justifying the delay, McConnell has said that “You’d have to go back to 1888… to find the last time a vacancy created in a presidential (election) year was confirmed by the party opposite the occupant of the White House.”
However, in February, 1988, an election year, the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed Republican President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court. Reagan nominated Kennedy in November, 1987.
The U.S. Constitution simply states that the president has the power to nominate judges to the Supreme Court with the advice and consent of the Senate.
Earlier this year there was speculation of a potential opening on the Supreme Court when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now 86, was hospitalized and underwent lung cancer surgery.
She has since returned to the court, maintaining an active schedule.
Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Dan Grebler