Since Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on Friday, the national conversation has been dominated by the question of when a new nominee should be put forward to fill her seat on the court. Democrats on Capitol Hill have demanded the nomination process be put off until next year, after the beginning of the next presidential term and the new Congress has been sworn in. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump says he will announce his nominee on Saturday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to take a speedy vote, and he appears to have whipped enough of his Republican colleagues in line to all but guarantee hearings by the end of 2020.
With the Senate and the White House under GOP control, Democrats have few procedural options to hold up the process. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who was the former attorney general for Connecticut and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke with WNYC’s Sean Carlson to discuss his party’s strategy for the Supreme Court fight:
What conversations are you having with your colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, both Democrats and Republicans, about next steps?
As Democrats, we are determined to fight this treacherous rush to confirm a nominee before the election inaugural when the American people can have their say. The public supports us. But Mitch McConnell is applying a political sledgehammer here. And so far he has thrashed his Republican colleagues into line. But we are continuing to reach out to them because as a matter of conscience and conviction, in the spirit of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose dying wish was that the next president and next Senate confirm the next justice, we think that they ought to slow down this rush to confirm a nominee who, by the way, will almost certainly overturn the Affordable Care Act in the midst of a pandemic. And instead of rushing to confirm a nominee, I would hope that my Republican colleagues would instead be trying to expand aid to people suffering during this public health crisis and economic crisis.
Are there any procedural steps that Democrats can take to block Trump's nomination? And how far are you willing to go to block that?
First, to state the obvious: Republicans control the agenda and they control the timing of all of these proceedings and they have the votes. So we are going to be, in effect, taking our case to the American people by showing them what is at stake here. And now we've just passed the two hundred thousand COVID-19 death mark, that shows how important health care is. And the president said that one of the tests for his nominee would be that he or she would strike down the Affordable Care Act. That means that people who have preexisting conditions, COVID-19 being one of them, will no longer have any protections. It means that women will be unprotected from discrimination. It means that young people on their parents' policies, if they're under 26, will have no protection. And the argument on this case is literally a few days after the election. It also means that we roll back the clock on voting rights, on civil rights, on marriage equality and workers' rights to unionize. The American people ought to understand the real effects on real lives of this nominee.
What can you do in your position, either on the Judiciary Committee or as an elected senator, to do anything about it? Are you considering impeaching the president or the attorney general to block confirmation hearings?
These confirmation hearings are going forward without any impeachment effort. But keep in mind, no matter who Trump's nominee is, his treacherous rush denies Americans their say. He's usurping their votes and upending democracy. And in this desperate rush, Republicans are really holding a dagger to democracy by undermining the legitimacy of the courts. They have no armies. They have no police forces. The courts' authority depend on people's trust and credibility. And so I think that my Republican colleagues are not only breaking their word, they are breaking something very important about our democracy. And my focus in these next days and weeks will be appealing to their sense of conscience, their better angels and their responsiveness to constituents who should be motivated to stand up and speak out.
Would you consider adding justices to the Supreme Court, or also passing statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico?
My focus is on these next days and weeks. We've passed now the four day mark since Justice Ginsburg passed away. Frankly, I knew her. I argued three cases before the Supreme Court when she sat on it. I am still dealing with the grief and pain of this loss, like so many Americans. She's going to lie in state, the first woman to be so honored. I will be very clear. All of these questions depend on who the next president and the next Senate is. And that is also part of my focus.
What do you think of Republicans' point that since some Democrats voted to confirm some of the federal judges that the president has floated, like Amy Coney Barrett, that this should be a no brainer?
I voted against her and frankly, confirming someone for the Court of Appeals is very different from approving a Supreme Court justice. There is something very, very different about the responsibilities of a Supreme Court justice, one of nine individuals who literally determine the law of the land.
Will you move to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law and then take the issue of women's rights to abortion out of the court's hands? And if so, how is that done?
I have legislation that would, in effect, preclude restrictions on Roe v. Wade rights by state legislatures. I am a longtime supporter of codifying Roe v. Wade at the state level, I would certainly support it in the Congress. It is a matter of fundamental constitutional law that is undeniable and unquestionable, it has existed since 1974, but that is one very, very paramount right that would be at risk with the Trump nominee, no matter who it is, because Trump again, as part of his test, has said he wants a nominee who will vote to reverse Roe v. Wade. So women will lose, potentially, the right to determine when they become pregnant. They will lose critical powers over their own bodies that are constitutionally guaranteed as a matter of the right to privacy. It is one of the issues that I'm going to question the nominee about when and if there is a hearing. And so I think Roe v. Wade is one of the fundamental tenets of our constitutional rights.