The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will set off a massive political battle over her replacement, and just a few hours later on Friday night, the cable networks were already getting in place to cover it.
On MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” the tone was somber, as the show broadcast live images of a vigil outside the Supreme Court building. Maddow interviewed NPR’s Nina Totenberg, who related that Ginsburg’s dying wish was that the next president would pick her replacement.
“There’s going to be a monumental fight over this,” Totenberg said. “I’m not optimistic that what she wanted, her fervent wish, will in fact take place, but you never know. You really never know.”
Shortly after Ginsburg’s death was announced, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement saying that President Trump’s nominee would get a vote on the floor. Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking to invoke the “McConnell Rule” — recalling the leader’s refusal to consider President Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland in the 2016 election year.
On Fox News, legal commentator Jay Sekulow — who worked as Trump’s outside counsel during the impeachment — predicted that there would be a decent interval of a couple of days to mourn Ginsburg before the political fight begins.
“The battle will be pitched on Monday, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Sekulow said on “Hannity,” as he sketched out the Republican argument for allowing Trump to replace Ginsburg. “The president nominates with the advice of the United States Senate. That’s how it works. The Constitution doesn’t change when you’re five months before, two weeks or after an election.”
The vacancy on the court will raise the stakes — if possible — in the presidential election, just six weeks before the vote. The confirmation hearings can also be expected to exceed even the high drama of the battle over Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
That fight riveted the nation, though Kavanaugh was replacing another conservative, Justice Anthony Kennedy. In this case, Trump’s nominee would replace the court’s leading liberal. As with Kavanaugh, all eyes will be on a handful of Republican senators, including Sen. Susan Collins, who is up for re-election in November, and will face tremendous political pressure to back up McConnell and Trump.
On CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” commentator David Gergen predicted that the fight would help Joe Biden.
“I think this plays into Biden’s hands,” he said. “The unfairness is so — it shrieks of hypocrisy.”
Biden issued a statement Friday night, saying “The voters should pick a President, and that President should select a successor to Justice Ginsburg. This was the position that the Republican Senate took in 2016, when there were nearly nine months before the election. That is the position the United States Senate must take now, when the election is less than two months away. We are talking about the Constitution and the Supreme Court. That institution should not be subject to politics.”