If a Supreme Court vacancy opens up between now and the end of the year, Republicans should fill it. Given the vital importance of the Court to rank-and-file Republican voters and grassroots activists, particularly in the five-decade-long quest to overturn Roe v. Wade, it would be political suicide for Republicans to refrain from filling a vacancy unless some law or important traditional norm was against them.
There is no such law and no such norm; those are all on their side. Choosing not to fill a vacancy would be a historically unprecedented act of unilateral disarmament. It has never happened once in all of American history. There is no chance that the Democrats, in the same position, would ever reciprocate, as their own history illustrates.
For now, all this remains hypothetical. Neither Ruth Bader Ginsburg nor any of her colleagues intend to go anywhere. But with the 87-year-old Ginsburg fighting a recurrence of cancer and repeatedly in and out of hospitals, we are starting to see the Washington press corps and senators openly discussing what would happen if she dies or is unable to continue serving on the Court. Democrats are issuing threats, and some Republicans are already balking.
History supports Republicans filling the seat. Doing so would not be in any way inconsistent with Senate Republicans’ holding open the seat vacated by Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. The reason is simple, and was explained by Mitch McConnell at the time. Historically, throughout American history, when their party controls the Senate, presidents get to fill Supreme Court vacancies at any time — even in a presidential election year, even in a lame-duck session after the election, even after defeat.
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