Sen. Joni Ernst told a panel of journalists today on “Iowa Press” that she would support holding hearings and votes for a new Supreme Court justice late in 2020 if an opening on the nation’s highest court became available.
“(If) it is a lame-duck session, I would support going ahead with any hearings we might have,” Ernst, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Friday afternoon on the Iowa PBS show. “And if it comes to an appointment prior to the end of the year, I would be supportive of that.”
That position is in direct opposition to the stance she took in 2016 when the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia afforded then-President Barack Obama the opportunity to nominate a justice in the final year of his presidency.
Ernst told reporters today the circumstances in 2020 are “different” than in 2016. The senator, up for reelection this year, said because Obama was a Democratic president and the Senate was controlled by Republicans, “we were divided on who that selection would be.”
“This is a different scenario,” Ernst said, “where you have a Republican president and a Republican Senate. There’s likely not to be a lot of disagreement when it comes to the selection of a justice.”
Ernst said she would support a Supreme Court nomination process this year even if Republicans lose the Senate and White House in November.
“It’s very different than what we have seen in the past,” Ernst repeated. “We have seen different presidents — so, a president of a different party and a Senate of a different party — in previous scenarios. But in this scenario, we have the same party that is the majority in the Senate and the same party that is in the White House.”
In February 2016, Justice Scalia died with 10 months left in Obama’s second term. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately vowed to block any nominee the Obama Administration put forward because it was a presidential election year. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, then the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, followed suit and played an integral role in making sure Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, didn’t have a confirmation hearing, let alone a vote in the committee or before the full Senate.
In March 2016, Ernst’s office released the statement: “Give the people a voice in SCOTUS debate.”
“I support Sen. Grassley’s decision to exercise the Senate’s constitutional authority to withhold consent to a Supreme Court nomination until the next president is sworn in,” Ernst said. “We must wait to see what the people say this November, and then our next president will put forward a nominee.”
Donald Trump made the nomination of Supreme Court justices a central plank of his presidential campaign, making the unprecedented move of releasing a list of judges he would consider for the Scalia seat if elected. Since his victory three-and-a-half years ago, Trump has appointed Neil Gorsuch to replace Scalia and Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired in 2018.
On Friday, news broke that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court’s oldest member at 87, is undergoing chemotherapy to battle a recurrence of cancer. In a statement from the Supreme Court, Ginsburg said she was “fully able” to continue her duties as a justice.
During the Family Leadership Summit today in Des Moines, Ernst applauded Senate Republicans’ landmark accomplishment of confirming 200 federal judges and two Supreme Court justices in Trump’s first term.
“Under President Trump, folks, we are not stopping. We haven’t reached a benchmark just to stop,” Ernst said. “We need to continue on that march to make sure that we have representation that will follow our great Constitution and knows how important that document is.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
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