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President Donald Trump says the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was “an amazing woman” who led an “amazing life.” (Sept. 18)

AP Domestic

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Saturday he will move quickly to fill the new opening onthe Supreme Court created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, urging the Republican Party to confirm an eventual nominee “without delay.” 

“We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning. “We have this obligation, without delay!”

Trump began assessing his Supreme Court options Saturday, planning his next moves in a re-election campaign likely to be transformed by Ginsburg’s death.

Trump is considering a woman for his latest Supreme Court nominee, aides and advisers said, and expects to make the future of the Supreme Court a major part of his re-election bid against Democratic nominee Joe Biden. 

The president paid tribute to Ginsburg’s legacy on Friday night: “Whether you agree or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life.” But discussion over how – and how soon – Trump and Senate Republicans would move to fill the vacancy erupted immediately, along with countless campaign contribution solicitations.    

The vacancy hands Trump a stunning opportunity to energize his voters and shift the narrative of the election away from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent economic fallout. In 2016, many conservatives said they were wary of Trump’s pugnacious style but decided to support him anyway because of his vow to push the federal judiciary to the right, a promise he has kept.

Trump is expected to stress the Supreme Court issue during a campaign rally Saturday evening in Fayetteville, N.C., his third rally in as many days. 

More: Biden says nomination to replace Ginsburg should be made after the election

More: ‘She never failed’: Reaction to the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Biden also served notice he will make the Supreme Court a campaign issue. He said the winner of the Nov. 3 election should select the person to replace Ginsburg, citing a precedent the Republicans set during the 2016 election, after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

“The voters should pick the president, and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider,” Biden said Friday night.

Trump’s short list

The White House has been planning for a potential Supreme Court vacancy for months, officials said. That included the Sept. 9 release of 20 potential nominees, adding to a series of previous lists. That list was widely viewed as a political document, intended to signal to voters Trump’s commitment to appoint conservatives.

Now, the president has a chance to follow through. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has predicted that Trump’s nominee will get a vote sometime in the coming months.

At this point, advisers said, Trump starts with an Indiana-based judge who made his short list on previous vacancies: Amy Coney Barrett, a member of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Ginsburg, an icon who made her name as a lawyer who won a string of women’s rights cases during the 1970s, will likely be replaced by a woman, officials said.

Other possibilities:

  • Judge Joan Larsen, a Michigan-based jurist and former Scalia clerk who sits on 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals;
  • Judge Britt Grant, a former member of the Georgia Supreme Court now on the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals;
  • Judge Barbara Lagoa, from Florida and a member of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals; the first Cuban American woman to serve on that court, and nominated by Trump.

Democrats charged Trump and the Republicans with hypocrisy. Four years ago, they said, the GOP worked to block the nomination of Merrick Garland, the jurist President Barack Obama nominated to replace the deceased Scalia.

At the time, in March 2016, Republicans said lawmakers should wait for the results of the November presidential election before filling a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court – an argument they now appear to be abandoning.

How a court battle could affect the election

It’s too early to say how the emerging fight over the Supreme Court will play out ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3, political analyst said. But the issue may draw some attention away from the pandemic and fire up voters and donors in both parties. 

It could also play out in different ways in different states, including battlegrounds like Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that will decide the Trump-Biden race. Some states also have tight Senate races that will decide the majority in the chamber that confirms Supreme Court nominations.

Republican strategist Scott Jennings said he is “of two minds” on how the Supreme Court issue will affect Trump.

“I think this definitely motivates pro-life conservatives and reminds recalcitrant Republicans why their vote really matters,” Jennings said.

On the other hand, many of those voters also care more about the economy, he said: “The Trump campaign pivoted to the economy this week and they are now off that message and on dealing with this new matter, which is essentially a debate over abortion.”

More: Who might succeed Justice Ginsburg? Trump’s short list begins with these four women (and one man)

Lara Brown, author of “Amateur Hour: Presidential Character and the Question of Leadership,” said the Supreme Court opening will likely help Trump “galvanize white evangelicals,” but could also fire up progressive voters “who had been unenthusiastic about Biden’s candidacy.”

“While I am not certain that either side will gain an electoral advantage, I do believe that turnout will increase above what we already believed would be the highest turnout election in the modern era,” said Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.

More: Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Supreme Court Justice’s life and career in pictures

Trump and aides have said they believe the Supreme Court issue boosted their campaign in 2016 and helped him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. In unveiling his candidate list this month, Trump said this year’s winner “will choose hundreds of federal judges, and, in all likelihood, one, two, three, and even four Supreme Court justices.”

Campaign issues: Supreme Court, coronavirus

On the other hand, rushing a Supreme Court nomination in the heat of a presidential race could alienate other independent voters, analysts said. They also questioned whether the high court would override another issue: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and Trump’s management of it.

Analyst Rick Tyler, an anti-Trump Republican, said battleground states are “equally divided by ideology,” and the pandemic will remain the dominant issue among many voters.

Said Tyler: “I don’t think the message of ‘forget the pandemic and that you lost your job, we need to get Trump’s nominee on the court’ is a winning message as compared to ‘remember, because of Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus, you lost your job and your life is now upside down and all he thinks is important is getting another justice on the court.'”

More: ‘RBG’: How Ruth Bader Ginsburg became a legit pop-culture icon

Barb McQuade, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at the University of Michigan, said the passing of Ginsburg – also known as “RBG” – “does focus voters on the importance of the court.”

The Republicans “have seemed better at using that as a rallying point in the past,” McQuade said, “but RBG is so well-known that maybe this time it goes the other way.”

Contributing: John Fritze

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