- President Donald Trump plans to nominate a new Supreme Court Justice on Friday or Saturday, one week after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
- Her death sparked a partisan debate over whether or not her seat should be filled before the election. After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016, Republicans set a precedent for what to do when a Justice dies during an election year by demanding that a vote not happen until after the election.
- However, Republicans are now walking back on that, vowing to push a nomination through in the six weeks leading up to the election. Democrats are outraged, calling this hypocrisy and demanding that the vote wait until after votes have been cast.
- Republicans Senators Collins and Lisa Murkowski have said they believe a vote should wait. Democrats need at least two more Republican to express a similar stance Many are waiting to hear from Sen. Mitt Romney and Sen. Chuck Grassley, who some think might flip in this situation.
Trump’s Nomination Plans
President Donald Trump plans to nominate a replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday or Saturday after ceremonies honoring her life and legacy have taken place.
Trump has pledged to nominate a woman and there are already several potential candidates being considered. U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett and former Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Lagoa are widely understood to be the two favorites.
The president’s choice to go forward with a nomination comes as the Senate Democrats and Republicans are divided on whether or not to move forward with a nomination so close to the election. Ginsburg died at the age of 87 on Friday, just six and a half weeks before Election Day. Following her death, Trump tweeted that Republicans have an obligation to get the ball rolling to fill her seat “without delay.”
Republicans Break Precedent
Many Republican leaders have backed him on this, but Democrats have found their inclination to rush this process hypocritical. When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February of 2016 under President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold a hearing on Obama’s nominee because of the upcoming election.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” McConnell said in a statement back in 2016.
McConnell argues that there is a major distinction between 2016 and 2020: Obama was a lame duck president and Trump is up for re-election. He believes that in this case, a replacement should be made, even though the election is looming even closer than when Scalia passed.
“In the last midterm election before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president’s second term,” McConnell wrote in a statement following Ginsburg’s death. “We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.
McConnell wrote that when a Republican majority was re-elected to the Senate, they vowed to work with Trump and they plan to stand by that. Because of this, he said that “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
The debate about whether or not Ginsburg should be replaced before the election has become one of the biggest political fights of the moment. The late justice likely knew the partisan infighting that would come as she left a court vacancy behind her. NPR reported that just days before her death, as her strength was waning, she gave a statement to her granddaughter saying “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Still, McConnell is not the only Republican fighting to break the precedent set by their own party in 2016. After Scalia’s death, Sen.Lindsey Graham said that the new rule going forward should be that during an election year, Supreme Court nominations must wait.
“I want you to use my words against me. If there is a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say ‘Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination,’ and you can use my words against me and you’d be absolutely right,” he said at the time.
“We are setting a precedent here today, Republicans are, that in the last year at least of a lame-duck eight-year term, I would say it’s gonna be a four year term, that you’re not going to fill a vacancy of the supreme court based on what we’re doing here today. That’s gonna be the new rule.”
Now, he plans to break that rule. In a series of tweets Saturday, he argued that Democrats have made major changes to the judicial confirmation process, and because of this, he will support Trump’s effort to push a nominee through before the election.
Several other Republicans have also announced their intent to support Trump. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) told Fox News that he believes the situation is urgent because if there is a contested election, having an eight-person court could lead to a “constitutional crisis.”
Democrats Call For Vote to Wait
Democrats, on the other hand, are pushing to have the vote wait until Americans have taken to the polls. Presidential candidate Joe Biden called the Republican effort to jam a nominee through so quickly “constitutional abuse” when speaking on the campaign trail on Sunday.
President Barack Obama also wrote a statement honoring Ginsburg. He asked that her wish for her replacement to wait be honored.
“Four and a half years ago, when Republicans refused to hold a hearing or an up-or-down vote on Merrick Garland, they invented the principle that the Senate shouldn’t fill an open seat on the Supreme Court before a new president was sworn in,” Obama wrote.
“A basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what’s convenient or advantageous in the moment. The rule of law, the legitimacy of our courts, the fundamental workings of our democracy all depend on that basic principle.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer fought against McConnell’s efforts by tweeting out the same exact statement McConnell made in 2016, asking that a vote wait until after the election. A source also told several outlets that Schumer has said “if Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year.”
As far as what that could look like, several prominent Democrats have said that if Republicans push a nomination through, the next Senate should expand the Supreme Court.
Democrats Fight to Get Republicans on Their Side
It’s unclear which party’s efforts will result in victory as much of the potential vote remains up in the air. The Senate, which is the only body responsible for approving the nomination, is currently split 53-47 with a Republican majority.
A total of 51 votes are needed to confirm a nomination, so the Democrats would need at least four Republicans to hop to their side on the matter if they want a chance. As of Monday, two have stated that they oppose holding a vote.
“In order for the American people to have faith in their elected officials, we must act fairly and consistently, no matter which political party is in power,” Senator Susan Collins (R-Me) wrote, explaining she is okay with the Senate reviewing the credentials of a nominee, but not with a confirmation hearing.
“In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the president or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.) joined Collins in her opposition.
“For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election,” she said in a statement. “Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed.”
Now, many are looking for other potential pathways Democrats could walk down in order to secure another two votes. Some think Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Ut.), the only Republican to vote in favor of impeachment, will join the Democrats. Others have also noted that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) said in 2018 that he would not consider a Supreme Court nomination in 2020.
The Senate race in Colorado could also be impactful. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Co.) is currently in a tight race for his re-election bid against former Governor John Hickenlooper. His choice here could be key when it comes to getting votes. While he has not stated his intentions on the matter, he did say that the country should have time to mourn the loss of Ginsburg before politics start.
Democratic Fundraising Surge
Currently, the American public is fairly split on the issue. According to a poll published on Saturday, 51% do not think Trump should nominate a new justice while 42% say he should. The poll is pretty much split along party lines.
Americans have had a very active response to Ginsburg’s death, particularly Democrats. Many saw her as a pillar holding up Democracy, and now fear that groundbreaking policies like the Affordable Care Act and Roe V. Wade could be in jeopardy without her. Those fears apparently turned into swift motivation.
Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue tweeted on Sunday morning that since the news of her death had broken on Friday, they had received $100 million from small-dollar donors.
The funds are being spread all across the Democratic party. One fund called “Get Mitch or Die Trying” which splits donations across several races aiming to flip Republian seats, saw a huge influx in the hours after she passed.
The fund started the day at $5 million raised. By the end of the day it had raised over $15 million and continued to soar throughout the weekend.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (Politico) (New York Times)
Supreme Court Rules High School Football Coach Can Pray on Field
All of our rights are “hanging in the balance,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a dissenting opinion.
Court’s Conservatives Break With 60 Years of History
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of a former high school football coach who lost his job after he refused to stop praying on the field at the end of games.
Joseph Kennedy, who was hired at Bremerton High School in Washington State in 2008, kneeled at the 50-yard line after games for years and prayed. He was often joined by some of his players, as well as others from the opposing team.
In 2015, the school asked him not to pray if it interfered with his duties or involved students.
Shortly after, Kennedy was placed on paid administrative leave, and after a school official recommended that his contract not be renewed for the 2016 season he did not reapply for the position.
Kennedy sued the school, eventually appealing the case to the Supreme Court.
The justices voted 6 to 3, with the liberal justices dissenting.
“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse republic — whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.
“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance,” he added.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion.
“Today’s decision is particularly misguided because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment entails, over those of his students, who are required to attend school and who this court has long recognized are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection,” she said.
“In doing so, the court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing states to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance.”
The defense in the case argued that the public nature of Kennedy’s prayers put pressure on students to join him, and that he was acting in his capacity as a public employee, not a private citizen.
Kennedy’s lawyers contended that such an all-encompassing definition of his job duties denied him his right to self-expression on school grounds.
“This is just so awesome,” Kennedy said in a statement following the decision. “All I’ve ever wanted was to be back on the field with my guys … I thank God for answering our prayers and sustaining my family through this long battle.”
Religious Liberty or Separation of Church and State?
Sixty years ago, the Supreme Court decided that the government cannot organize or promote prayer in public schools, and it has since generally abided by that jurisprudence.
But the court led by Chief Justice John Roberts has been increasingly protective of religious expression, especially after the confirmation of three conservative Trump-appointed judges.
Reactions to the ruling were mostly split between liberals who saw the separation of church and state being dissolved and conservatives who hailed it as a victory for religious liberty.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which represented the Bremerton school district, said in a statement that the ruling “gutted decades of established law that protected students’ religious freedom.”
“If Coach Kennedy were named Coach Akbar and he had brought a prayer blanket to the 50 yard line to pray after a game,” one Twitter user said, “I’ve got a 401(k) that says this illegitimate, Christofascist SCOTUS rules 6-3 against him.”
“The people defending former Coach Kennedy’s right to kneel on the field after the game to pray – are the ones condemning Colin Kaepernick’s right to kneel on the field to protest police brutality against Black Americans,” another user wrote.
Others, like Republican Congressmember Ronny Jackson and former Secretary of State for the Trump administration Mike Pompeo, celebrated the ruling for protecting religious freedom and upholding what they called the right to pray.
“I am excited to build on this victory and continue securing our inalienable right to religious freedom,” Pompeo wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Fox News)
Rep. Schiff Urges DOJ to Investigate Trump for Election Crimes: “There’s Enough Evidence”
“When the Justice Department finds evidence of criminal potential criminal wrongdoing, they need to investigate,” the congressman said.
Schiff Says DOJ Should Launch Inquiry
Rep. Adam Schiff (R-Ca.) told Rogue Rocket that he believes there is “certainly […] enough evidence for the Justice Department to open an investigation” into possible election crimes committed by former President Donald Trump.
Schiff, who took the lead in questioning witnesses testifying before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection on Tuesday, said that it will be up to the DOJ to determine whether “they have proof beyond a reasonable doubt” of criminal activity, but added that an investigation must first be launched.
“Donald Trump should be treated like any other citizen,” the congressman said, noting that a federal judge in California has already ruled that Trump and his allies “likely” engaged in multiple federal criminal acts. “When the Justice Department finds evidence of criminal potential criminal wrongdoing, they need to investigate.”
“One of the concerns I have is it’s a year and a half since these events. And while […] there’s an investigation going on in Fulton County by the district attorney, I don’t see a federal grand jury convened in Atlanta looking into this, and I think it’s fair to ask why,” Schiff continued, referencing the ongoing inquiry into Trump’s attempts to overturn the election in Georgia.
“Normally, the Justice Department doesn’t wait for Congress to go first. They pursue evidence and they have the subpoena power. They’re often much more agile than the Congress. And I think it’s important that it not just be the lower-level people who broke into the Capitol that day and committed those acts of violence who are under the microscope,” he continued. “I think anyone who engaged in criminal activity trying to overturn the election where there’s evidence that they may have engaged in criminal acts should be investigated.”
Schiff Takes Aim at DOJ’s Handling of Committee Subpoenas
Schiff also expressed frustration with how the DOJ has handled referrals the committee has made for former Trump officials who have refused to comply with subpoenas to testify before the panel.
“We have referred four people for criminal prosecution who have obstructed our investigation. The Justice Department has only moved forward with two of them,” he stated. “That’s not as powerful an incentive as we would like. The law requires the Justice Department to present these cases to the grand jury when we refer them, and by only referring half of them, it sends a very mixed message about whether congressional subpoenas need to be complied with.”
As far as why the congressman thought the DOJ has chosen to operate in this manner in regards to the Jan. 6 panel’s investigation, he said he believes “the leadership of the department is being very cautious.”
“I think that they want to make sure that the department avoids controversy if possible, doesn’t do anything that could even be perceived as being political,” Schiff continued. “And while I appreciate that sentiment […] at the same time, the rule of law has to be applied equally to everyone. If you’re so averse, […] it means that you’re giving effectively a pass or immunity to people who may have broken the law. That, too, is a political decision, and I think it’s the wrong decision.”
On the Note of Democracy
Schiff emphasized the importance of the American people working together to protect democracy in the fallout of the insurrection.
“I really think it’s going to require a national movement of people to step up to preserve our democracy. This is not something that I think Congress can do alone. We’re going to try to protect those institutions, but Republicans are fighting this tooth and nail,” he asserted. “It’s difficult to get through a Senate where Mitch McConnell can filibuster things.”
“We don’t have the luxury of despair when it comes to what we’re seeing around us. We have the obligation to do what generations did before us, and that is defend our democracy,” the congressman continued. “We had to go to war in World War II to defend our democracy from the threat of fascism. You know, we’re not called upon to make those kinds of sacrifices. We see the bravery of people in Ukraine putting their lives on the line to defend their country, their sovereignty, their democracy. Thank God we’re not asked to do that.”
“So what we have to do is, by comparison, so much easier. But it does require us to step up, to be involved, to rally around local elections officials who are doing their jobs, who are facing death threats, and to protect them and to push back against efforts around the country to pass laws to make it easier for big liars to overturn future elections.”
“We are not passengers in all of this, unable to affect the course of our country. We can, you know, grab the rudder and steer this country in the direction that we want.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
Senate Passes Bill to Help Veterans Suffering From Burn Pit Exposure
For Biden, who believes his son Beau may have died from brain cancer caused by burn pits, the issue is personal.
Veterans to Get Better Healthcare
The Senate voted 84-14 Thursday to pass a bill that would widely expand healthcare resources and benefits to veterans who were exposed to burn pits while deployed overseas.
Until about 2010, the Defense Department used burn pits to dispose of trash from military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations, dumping things like plastics, rubber, chemical mixtures, and medical waste into pits and burning them with jet fuel.
Numerous studies and reports have demonstrated a link between exposure to the toxic fumes emitted by the pits and health problems such as respiratory ailments and rare cancers. The DoD has estimated that nearly 3.5 million veterans may have inhaled enough smoke to suffer from related health problems.
For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs resisted calls to recognize the link between exposure and illness, arguing it had not been scientifically proven and depriving many veterans of disability benefits and medical reimbursements.
Over the past year, however, the VA relented, awarding presumptive benefit status to veterans exposed to burn pits, but it only applied to those who were diagnosed with asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis within 10 years of their service.
The latest bill would add 23 conditions to the list of what the VA covers, including hypertension. It also calls for investments in VA health care facilities, claims processing, and the VA workforce, while strengthening federal research on toxic exposure.
The bill will travel to the House of Representatives next, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to push it through quickly. Then it will arrive at the White House for final approval.
An Emotional Cause for Many
Ahead of a House vote on an earlier version of the bill in March, comedian John Stewart publically slammed Congress for taking so long to act.
“They’re all going to say the same thing. ‘We want to do it. We want to support the veterans. But we want to do it the right way. We want to be responsible,’” he said. “You know what would have been nice? If they had been responsible 20 years ago and hadn’t spent trillions of dollars on overseas adventures.”
“They could have been responsible in the seventies when they banned this kind of thing in the United States,” he continued. “You want to do it here? Let’s dig a giant fucking pit, 10 acres long, and burn everything in Washington with jet fuel. And then let me know how long they want to wait before they think it’s going to cause some health problems.”
For President Biden, the issue is personal. He has said he believes burn pits may have caused the brain cancer that killed his son Beau in 2015.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer applauded the fact the long-awaited benefits could soon arrive for those impacted.
“The callousness of forcing veterans who got sick as they were fighting for us because of exposure to these toxins to have to fight for years in the VA to get the benefits they deserved — Well, that will soon be over. Praise God,” he said during a speech on Thursday.
A 2020 member survey by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 86% of respondents were exposed to burn pits or other toxins.
Although burn pits have largely been scaled down, the DoD has not officially banned them, and at least nine were still in operation in April 2019.