Supreme Court Confirmation: Joni Ernst In 2016 Vs. 2020

By Elizabeth Meyer

September 23, 2020

Joni Ernst’s Lindsey Graham moment came in 2018 during an editorial board interview in which the Iowa senator told reporters a precedent was set in 2016 not to confirm a Supreme Court justice in an election year.

Much like Sen. Graham, who in 2016 said “I want you to use my words against me” when he opposed hearings for President Obama’s nominee, Ernst told the Des Moines Register Editorial Board she expected to be reminded of her stance on Supreme Court nominations should a vacancy occur in 2020.

“Until he goes through that election cycle, and when he is reelected, then he would be able to make the new appointment,” Ernst said when asked whether she would support holding open a Supreme Court seat if a vacancy occurred late in President Trump’s term. “I think it would be absolutely fair, of course it would be fair.”

“Come 2020, if there’s an opening, I’m sure you’ll remind me of that,” Ernst said during the 2018 interview.

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Unsurprisingly, Iowa’s junior U.S. senator has since reversed course in the wake of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on Friday.

In the immediate aftermath of her death, Ernst’s campaign released Supreme Court-related fundraising text messages and emails, which Ernst later said shouldn’t have been sent, saying she was unaware of their release.

Ernst on Monday issued a statement about the vacancy, saying senators “have much to consider over the coming days.”

“The Supreme Court plays a fundamental role in the defense of our Constitution and in the protection of our rights and liberties,” Ernst said. “Once the president puts forward his nominee for the Supreme Court, I will carry out my duty — as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee — to evaluate the nominee for our nation’s highest court.”

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Once a nominee is announced and he or she comes before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ernst will have a front and center role in what is sure to be a contentious hearing. Ernst began her tenure on the committee in 2019, so this is the first nomination hearing for a Supreme Court justice she will participate in. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who chaired the committee during the 2017 confirmation of Neil Gorsuch and the 2018 confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, is no longer the chair, but remains on the committee.

When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, with 10 months left in President Barack Obama’s final term, Ernst lined up behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to say “the American people deserve to have a say in this important decision that will impact the course of our country for years to come.”

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“We must wait to see what the people say in November, and then our next president will put forward a nominee,” Ernst said in a March 2016 statement.

On a press call with reporters, one month after Scalia’s death, Ernst reiterated her support for Grassley’s decision not to hold a nomination hearing for President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, and pointed to the fact “we have a president who is moving out of his residency” as reason why Garland’s nomination was invalid.

“We have a very, very significant election coming up where we want the people to speak out,” Ernst said. “We want to hear their opinion on this. They will do that by electing a new president.”

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Ernst’s reversal in the wake of Ginsburg’s death is unsurprising given the position she took in July when asked about the prospect of a Supreme Court vacancy this year.

“It’s very different than what we have seen in the past,” Ernst said on “Iowa Press.” “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.”


At the time, Ernst said she would support holding hearings and votes this year for a new justice even if Trump is defeated in November.

“(If) it is a lame-duck session, I would support going ahead with any hearings we might have,” she said. “And if it comes to an appointment prior to the end of the year, I would be supportive of that.”


By Elizabeth Meyer
Posted 9/23/20

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