Image for Confirmation Fight Adds Flames to Overheated Political Scene

Just when you thought the pot couldn’t boil any hotter, the death last Friday of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ignited yet another fire storm consuming the nation’s capital and further inflaming the presidential election. Battles already are brewing over further coronavirus financial relief, a continuing resolution to prevent a partial federal government shutdown October 1 and action to re-authorize transportation spending.

“The looming, highly charged nomination process adds to a toxic partisan stew made up of a variety of ingredients, including a hyper-partisan presidential election season, a global health pandemic, protests and riots and an economic crisis we haven’t seen since the Great Depression,” says CFM Partner Joel Rubin.

President Trump has promised to nominate a female replacement for Ginsburg by Saturday and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has guaranteed a vote on the nominee, possibly before November 3. After Senator Mitt Romney expressed his support, it appears there will be enough GOP votes to confirm Trump’s nominee.

Democrats are howling over what they call Republican hypocrisy, pointing to McConnell’s refusal to hold hearings on President Obama’s nominee following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016 by claiming it was too close to an election. Republicans insist they have a constitutional obligation to fill the vacancy because they control both the White House and Senate.

Ginsburg’s body will lie in repose at the US Supreme Court on Wednesday and Thursday and lie in state at the US Capitol on Friday. She will be the first woman in US history to be honored this way at the Capitol. Lying in state is a tribute reserved for the most distinguished government officials and military officers.

While Trump is urging supporters at his political rallies to chant, “Fill that seat”, Democrats are threatening retaliation if they recapture the White House and flip Senate control, including enlarging the Supreme Court and admitting Washington, DC and Puerto Rico as states. Operatives for both political parties are using the nomination fight to raise money for down-the-stretch campaign advertising. 

“The looming, highly charged nomination process adds to a toxic partisan stew made up of a variety of ingredients, including a hyper-partisan presidential election season, a global health pandemic, protests and riots and an economic crisis we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.”

In many ways, the new furor over a Supreme Court vacancy has underlined the raw political differences at stake in the presidential and senatorial elections – abortion rights and repeal of Obamacare – which will be at stake in a court with six conservatives and three liberals. A case involving the elimination of Obamacare is on the high court’s docket one week after the election.

The two frontrunning candidates for the nomination have recently been confirmed for positions on federal appellate courts and conservative judicial records, including on abortion rights.

Even as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has hinted at tactics to delay the confirmation process in the Senate, she is moving ahead in the House to avert a government shutdown. The House passed on a bipartisan vote a continuing resolution to extend current levels of funding through December 11, provide an additional $20 billion that Republicans sought for farm aid and increased funding for nutrition programs for students unable to eat meals at school. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation this week. The compromise was reached with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows signaled last week a willingness to entertain a $1.5 trillion coronavirus financial relief package, which would be half the size of the package House Democrats approved in May. Pelosi says she would be willing to support a $2.2 trillion package. 

One of the biggest sticking points is much financial relief to give to states and local governments. The Problem Solvers Caucus, an ad hoc, bipartisan group of lawmakers, suggested $500 billion. Democrats provided $915 billion in their package. Senate Republicans previously offered $150 billion.

Another key issue is whether the Continuing Resolution would contain a one-year extension of the FAST Act, the transportation reauthorization bill. Despite lingering disagreement, Meadows expressed optimism about a deal before Congress departs at the end of the week.

Dousing the political fires with more gasoline, the Trump administration threatened this week to cut off federal aid to Portland, Seattle and New York City, which the Department of Justice branded as “anarchist jurisdictions”. Citing failures to quell riots and looting, Attorney General William Barr said in a statement, “We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance.”

Federal Appeals Court Judges Barbara Lagoa (left) and Amy Coney Barrett (right) appear to top the list of potential Trump nominees to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Two Female Federal Judges Top Trump’s List of Nominees

Reports indicate President Trump has zeroed in on two contenders for his nomination to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Both are female and federal judges he appointed.

The apparent favorite of conservative legal experts is Amy Coney Barrett, a former Notre Dame law professor who sits on the US Court of Appeals in the Seventh Circuit in Chicago since 2017 and was vetted previously for the Supreme Court vacancy ultimately filled with Brett Kavanaugh.

Barrett was bypassed in favor of Kavanaugh because some conservatives hadn’t seen enough of her judicial renderings, especially on the issue of abortion. Time magazine reported, “In 2013, she wrote that life begins at conception and that Supreme Court justices should overturn precedent that is ‘clearly in conflict’ with their constitutional view, which some observers interpret as a signal that she may be open to overturning the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade.” Her dissents on abortion-related laws in Indiana apparently have convinced conservatives. “She is a known quantity,” one conservative advocate said.

Axios reported last year Trump as telling confidants he was saving Barrett’s nomination to replace Ginsburg.

The other favorite is Barbara Lagoa, a Florida native and daughter of Cuban exiles who sits on the US Court of Appeals in the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta. Lagoa was recently added to Trump’s list because her confirmation drew bipartisan support and presumably could impress Latinx voters in a key presidential election battleground state that Trump must win to have a chance of re-election.