Live Updates: A Tip Sheet for the Senate Fight Over Ruth Bader Ginsburgs Seat

 nytimes.com  09/19/2020 22:10:04   Michael Crowley

President Trump spoke to the news media about the Supreme Court on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday.
President Trump spoke to the news media about the Supreme Court on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday.Credit...Pete Marovich for The New York Times

President Trump said on Saturday that he expected to nominate a candidate to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court next week, and that his selection would most likely be a woman.

I would say that a woman would be in first place, Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House, adding that he had a short list of candidates. Yes, the choice of a woman I would say would certainly be appropriate.

Responding to the news that Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, had said that the Senate should not vote on a nominee before the November election, Mr. Trump replied: I totally disagree with her, we have an obligation. We won. And we have an obligation as the winners to pick who we want.

Mr. Trump said he was not sure whether the Senate would vote on a nominee before the November election. I would think before would be very good, but well be making a decision, he said. I think the process can go very very fast.

Asked about the Republican Senates refusal to take action on President Barack Obamas March 2016 nominee for the court, Merrick Garland, Mr. Trump rejected the idea of a precedent.

Well thats called the consequences of losing an election, he said. He lost the election, he didnt have the votes. When you lose the election, sometimes things dont work out well.

The remarks were Mr. Trumps first public comments since a statement of admiration for Justice Ginsburg, who died Friday, apart from a tweet Saturday in which he said he had an obligation, without delay to select a replacement.

Mr. Trump was headed to Fayetteville, N.C., for a campaign rally set to begin at 6:30 p.m.

He faces a tight race in North Carolina, which he carried by three points in 2016, but several recent polls have shown former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. with a slight edge there.

He also hopes to boost the states junior senator, Thom Tillis, one of his partys most vulnerable Senate incumbents and a reliable ally. A series of recent polls have put Mr. Tillis a few points behind his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham, a former state senator and Iraq War veteran.

Before leaving the White House, Mr. Trump responded to questions about two specific candidates for the high court.

Asked whether Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, is the front-runner for his nomination, Mr. Trump replied, Shes very highly respected, I can say that.

And he called the former Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Lagoa an extraordinary person. Ive heard incredible things about her.

I dont know her. Shes Hispanic, and highly respected, he added.

Mr. Trump also pressed Democrats to release their own list of potential court selections. I think that the other side should show their radical-left list, and I think youll be surprised, he said.

People visited a memorial set up outside the Supreme Court on Saturday. The death on Friday of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg immediately led to questions about how Republican senators would proceed.
People visited a memorial set up outside the Supreme Court on Saturday. The death on Friday of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg immediately led to questions about how Republican senators would proceed.Credit...Jason Andrew for The New York Times

The fight over Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgs seat on the Supreme Court has profound implications for the entire country. But its outcome depends on the personal and political calculations currently being made by a handful of Capitol Hill Republicans who have been bruised, buoyed and bullied by President Trump over the years.

And of that group, this is a Gang of 7 to keep a special eye on in the coming days (more on them below):

  • Senator Susan Collins of Maine

  • Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska

  • Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado

  • Senator Mitt Romney of Utah

  • Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina

  • Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee

  • Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa

Heres the big picture first:

Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, who has proudly rammed through dozens of Mr. Trumps appointments to the federal bench, played to type on Friday, saying it was his intention to schedule a vote on the presidents as-yet unnamed pick. Mr. Trump followed up on Saturday, exhorting fence-sitters in the Republican conference to act without delay.

But behind the scenes, their front was less unified.

Mr. McConnell is far less enthusiastic about the political implications of an ugly nomination battle during the final weeks of a presidential campaign, according to two Republicans who are close to the leader. And his public statement made no mention of the precise timing of a floor vote, or whether he would call one if he did not have the votes to win.

Mr. McConnells control of the majority rests, in large measure, on the fates of three imperiled incumbents on the ballot in November  Ms. Collins, Mr. Gardner and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Late Friday, Mr. McConnell counseled his members to keep their powder dry before they convened to discuss matters. Most gladly complied.

Republicans currently hold a 53 to 47 seat advantage over Democrats in the upper chamber. Four Republicans would have to defect in order to overcome Vice President Mike Pences tie-breaking vote and block a potential nominee.

Ms. Collins, who is trailing her Democratic opponent, Sara Gideon, in most recent polls, argued in a statement on Saturday that President Trump had the power to nominate a Supreme Court nominee, but the Senate should not hold a confirmation vote before the November election.

Ms. Murkowski, a frequent critic of the presidents who is, at the moment, unassailably popular in her home state, said Friday she opposed holding a vote before the election. But she made the remarks, in an interview with Alaska Public Media, before Justice Ginsburgs death was announced, and she didnt address the confirmation process in a Friday night statement mourning her death.

Mr. Tillis, who is banking on a strategy of maximizing turnout among Mr. Trumps supporters, seized on the fight like a runner grabbing an energy drink, backing the pre-election approach as a way to keep radical, left-wing Biden appointees off the bench. Three other incumbents in tight re-election fights  Martha McSally of Arizona, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and Joni Ernst of Iowa  also expressed support for Mr. McConnells plan.

But Mr. Gardner, who has questioned election-year confirmation votes in the past, laid low, as did Mr. Grassley.

Mr. Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which would oversee the confirmation process, said Saturday that he would support any effort to move forward regarding the recent vacancy created by the passing of Justice Ginsburg, directly contradicting remarks he made in 2016, when he said he would oppose any effort to fill a Supreme Court vacancy during a presidential election year.

Then theres Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the partys 2012 nominee and the most outspoken Republican critic of Mr. Trump in the Senate. An aide to Mr. Romney, reached on Saturday, had no immediate comment on the matter. But Stuart Stevens, a top adviser to Mr. Romneys 2012 campaign who remains close to him, blasted the presidents plan on Twitter, suggesting it would lead to a backlash that would end Republican control of the Senate.

Senator Lindsey Graham is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which would oversee the hearings on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgs successor.
Senator Lindsey Graham is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which would oversee the hearings on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgs successor.Credit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said Saturday that he would support any effort to move forward regarding the recent vacancy created by the passing of Justice Ginsburg, directly contradicting remarks he made in 2016, when he said he would oppose any effort to fill a Supreme Court vacancy during a presidential election year.

Mr. Graham, a loyal Trump ally who is locked in a tight race against Jaime Harrison in South Carolina, cited the Democrats decision to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for most judicial nominees in 2013 as a reason he had changed his position. He also argued that Chuck Schumer and his friends in the liberal media conspired to destroy the life of Brett Kavanaugh and hold that Supreme Court seat open.

It was a stark departure from his previous assertions, which began in 2016 and continued into 2018, long after Senate Democrats eliminated the filibuster for judicial nominees and even after most of the hearings to confirm Brett M. Kavanaugh to the nations highest court had taken place.

I want you to use my words against me, Mr. Graham said in 2016. If theres a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said lets let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.

In 2018, days before Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in, Mr. Graham said again, If an opening comes in the last year of President Trumps term and the primary process has started, we will wait to the next election.

But Mr. Graham, who oversees the Senate Judiciary Committee and will preside over any confirmation hearing, has long been a devoted ally of the president and is suddenly entangled in a re-election campaign that is more contested than originally expected. Placing another conservative nominee on a lifetime seat on the nations court is likely to further galvanize his Republican base.

Jaime Harrison will be a loyal foot soldier in the cause of the radical liberals to destroy America as we know it, Mr. Graham said of his Democratic opponent, who experienced a surge in fund-raising this past week after a poll showed him tied with Mr. Graham. As to me  I will be part of the Resistance and oppose their radical liberal agenda as they try to fundamentally change America.

Mr. Harrison responded on Twitter on Saturday, saying Mr. Graham had proved his word is worthless.

When people show you who they are, believe them, he said. Lindsey Graham has shown us that hes running for political power.

All 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee urged Mr. Graham to delay holding confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court vacancy until after the inauguration of the next president.

In light of the vacancy created by Justice Ginsburgs death, we call upon you to state unequivocally and publicly that you will not consider any nominee to fill Justice Ginsburgs seat until after the next President is inaugurated, the senators said in the letter to Mr. Graham.

There cannot be one set of rules for a Republican President and one set for a Democratic President, the senators wrote, and considering a nominee before the next inauguration would be wholly inappropriate.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, is considered a swing vote and is facing a tough challenge from Sara Gideon, her Democratic opponent.
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, is considered a swing vote and is facing a tough challenge from Sara Gideon, her Democratic opponent.Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said on Saturday that she was opposed to holding a vote on President Trumps Supreme Court nominee before the November election, and suggested that were he to lose, his successor should ultimately choose a nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The statement from Ms. Collins, who is considered a swing vote and is facing a bruising re-election fight, narrowed the already slim margin in the Senate in favor of confirming a Supreme Court nominee less than two months before Election Day, complicating the task of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, who has promised a vote.

It made her the first Republican senator to explicitly say, in the aftermath of Justice Ginsburgs death, that she would not support such a vote before Nov. 3. Mr. McConnell can afford to lose no more than three Republicans.

President Trump has the constitutional authority to make a nomination to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, and I would have no objection to the Senate Judiciary Committees beginning the process of reviewing his nominees credentials, Ms. Collins said.

But she suggested that if former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the presidency, she would oppose moving forward with a nominee chosen by Mr. Trump.

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, Ms. Collins said.

It was a carefully calibrated statement from Ms. Collins, who is entangled in the toughest race of her political career in part because she cast a decisive vote to confirm Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in 2018.

In an apparent reference to 2016, when she was one of only two Republicans who opposed Mr. McConnells move to blockade President Barack Obamas nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court, Ms. Collins warned that, we must act fairly and consistently no matter which political party is in power.

Senator Mitt Romney, who in the past has expressed reservations about rushing through a Supreme Court nomination before the election, has kept silent on the current situation.
Senator Mitt Romney, who in the past has expressed reservations about rushing through a Supreme Court nomination before the election, has kept silent on the current situation.Credit...Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

The announcement that Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, opposes pushing through a new Supreme Court nominee before the November election has shifted attention to a trio of Republican senators who are likely, although not guaranteed, to follow suit.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, had said Friday, hours before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was announced, that she would vote against any attempt to ram through a nominee so close to an election.

Many Democrats had hoped Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, who has clashed repeatedly with Mr. Trump, would quickly make a similar statement. He has not.

Mr. Romney has expressed deep reservations about rushing through such a nomination to friends as recently as this summer, according to a former aide on his 2012 presidential campaign. But he has kept silent on the current situation, the person said, out of deference to Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, who has asked Republican senators to keep their powder dry until they meet to strategize.

Mr. Romney will not comment further until after members have reconvened in person to discuss the matter, an aide to Mr. Romney, Liz Johnson, wrote in an email on Saturday.

But Stuart Stevens, a former top aide, was less circumspect, accusing Mr. McConnell of trying to muzzle Republicans until he figures out a way to get their votes.

He wants time to try and buy their votes with legislation & committee assignments, threaten them if that fails & pressure them with the Coward Caucus, he wrote on Twitter.

Senator Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado and one of the most endangered Republicans in the upper chamber, was firmly opposed to election-year confirmations in 2016, when then-President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the high court. On Saturday, Mr. Gardner dodged the issue during an appearance before a business group in his state.

I hope that before the politics begins  because there will be plenty of time for that  that we have some time for this country to reflect on the legacy of a great woman, he said.

Then there is Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, a cantankerous and quotable former chairman of the Judiciary Committee. In July, Mr. Grassley, who is not seeking re-election, was asked what advice he would have for the current chairman, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, if he was confronted with such a choice.

I would have to tell him that I wouldnt have a hearing, Mr. Grassley said.

Mr. Grassley has said little, apart from praising Justice Ginsburg, in the last 24 hours.

He has been active on Twitter, as national reporters parse his every syllable for clues as to how he would vote.

On Saturday afternoon, he delivered a message to a somewhat more local audience.

If u lost ur pet pidgin /its dead in front yard my Iowa farm JUST DISCOVERED here r identifiers Right leg Blue 2020/3089/AU2020/SHE ///LEFT LEG GREEN BAND NO PRINTED INFO, Mr. Grassley wrote, adding: Sorry for bad news.

Video
Video player loading
In the hours following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgs death, people gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court to honor her life and legacy.CreditCredit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

A record-setting flood of donations poured into Democratic campaigns and causes since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgs death was announced: More than $60 million had been processed through ActBlue, the Democratic donation processing site, as of Saturday afternoon.

Democratic donors gave more money online in the 9 p.m. hour Friday  $6.2 million  than in any other single hour since ActBlue was started 16 years ago.

Then donors broke the sites record again in the 10 p.m. hour when donors gave another $6.3 million  more than $100,000 per minute.

The unprecedented outpouring shows the power of a looming Supreme Court confirmation fight to motivate Democratic donors. The previous biggest hour, on Aug. 20, when Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke on the final night of the Democratic convention, saw $4.3 million in donations processed, according to an ActBlue spokesperson.

Republicans also quickly sought to capitalize on the looming political battle. On Saturday afternoon, the Trump campaign sent out a text to its supporters, saying Pres. Trump will fill the Supreme Court Vacancy with a conservative justice with a link to a campaign donation page.

WinRed, the fund-raising platform used by President Trumps campaign as well as many Republicans up and down the ballot, does not keep a running public accounting of donations like ActBlue, so the total donations raised by Republicans was not immediately available. Requests for information from WinRed were not immediately returned.

ActBlue does not show where donations go in real time but much of the grass roots energy appeared focused on the Senate, which would have the power to confirm or block any nominee picked by President Trump.

Hours after Justice Ginsburgs death, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, pledged that whomever Mr. Trump picked to replace her would receive a confirmation vote. President Trumps nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate, he said in a statement.

Democratic donors flooded into at least one page dedicated to key Senate races, called Get Mitch or Die Trying. The page, created by the progressive group Crooked Media, had raised about $9 million in new donations since Justice Ginsburgs death was announced, as of noon on Saturday, and will divide the proceeds between 13 different Democrats running for Senate this year.

The conventional wisdom is that the Supreme Court only motivates Republicans, but these fund-raising totals demonstrate that that has changed, said Tommy Vietor, a founder of Crooked Media and a veteran of the Obama administration.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent a tweet on Saturday directing users to its Flip the Senate page fund-raising page. The stakes have never been higher, the tweet said. The future of the Supreme Court is on the line. Join us in this fight.

Another ActBlue page directed donations to be split among the campaigns of seven Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents. When shared on social media, the page loads with a logo of Justice Ginsburgs famed collar at the top.

As money poured into Democratic coffers, nonprofit groups on both sides of the fight pledged to spend millions in an attempt to sway both public opinion and put pressure on senators ahead of a potential nomination battle.

Demand Justice, a group led by the longtime Democratic aide Brian Fallon, pledged to spend $10 million to fight to ensure no justice is confirmed before the January inauguration.

The Judicial Crisis Network, a group that has long pressed for conservative jurists for the court, said they planned to match any Democratic efforts. We will match their $10 million and whatever it takes, said Carrie Severino, the groups president.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Saturday lauded Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and said the fact that her death had touched off a political furor was a sign of an unhealthy democracy.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Saturday lauded Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and said the fact that her death had touched off a political furor was a sign of an unhealthy democracy.Credit...Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

Representative Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez, Democrat of New York, lamented that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had spent her final days preoccupied by the earth-shattering political significance of her own death, criticized what she called the Senate majority leaders ability to manipulate the rules, and urged Joseph R. Biden Jr. not to put out his own potential list of nominees for the Supreme Court vacancy at this moment.

In an interview Saturday in her Bronx campaign office, the congresswoman, who sought to galvanize Democrats in response to the news in a live broadcast on Instagram late Friday, praised Justice Ginsburgs choices, citing both her dissents and her elaborate collars.

Growing up as a woman in America, youre always on the lookout for anyone whos made it, regardless of shared philosophy, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. Thats how rare achieving such heights as she did is for a woman in our country, especially at the time that she achieved it.

She continued: Its not just the fact that shes a woman who served on our highest court, or the first Jewish woman to serve on our highest court. But its how she served. Its the dissents that she wrote. Even its the style in which she did that. Wearing these big, bold collars is not just a sartorial decision. It is a visual communication to women across the country to say: take up space. And when you are in this space, you dont have to occupy this space in the way that every man before you did. You can be the first, and you can be brazen, as you are the first.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said the fact that the death of a single, important individual could set off the political furor that it had raised serious questions about the state of democracy in the United States.

We have nine unelected Supreme Court justices, and they have lifetime terms, and the majority leader, any given majority leader in the Senate, can manipulate rules and leverage their position of power to deny even a president the ability to appoint a justice, she said. I think one of the things that it prompts a lot of people to do is actually question how democratic many of our institutions are.

We are in a very, very scary place, and that is why her passing was just so earth-shattering, not just to millions of people but to herself, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez added, referencing the fact that days before her death, Justice Ginsburg dictated a statement to her granddaughter saying that her most fervent wish was that she wouldnt be replaced until a new president is installed.

My mind keeps going back to how her final moments were preoccupied with that, not taking stock, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. That took away, fundamentally, from her ability to more fully enjoy her life, her accomplishments, her family and her friends  because our democracy is so imperiled.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez described Mr. Trumps decision to release a list of potential nominees for the court vacancy as a political calculation aimed purely at turning out voters. On his list are individuals like Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz  Tom Cotton famously supporting bringing in the military to potentially endanger the lives of people exercising their first amendment rights. This is incredibly scary, that that kind of perspective could replace a vacancy left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The congresswoman said she didnt think that Mr. Biden, the Democratic nominee, ought to employ the same tactic and release his own list of potential nominees, as Mr. Trump has been urging.

I think that Democratic voters, right now, its less about motivating people around a specific individual to be named to that court, she said. I think we are highly motivated about just making sure that vacancy is protected and preserved for the next president. I dont think releasing a list of names really adds to that, and in fact, I think it could risk demoralizing and dividing our party.

Right now, the costs outweigh the benefits, she added. But as events develop, the calculus could change.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said during a call with Senate Democrats that everything Americans value is at stake.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said during a call with Senate Democrats that everything Americans value is at stake.Credit...Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, told his caucus on Saturday that nothing is off the table for next year if Republicans pushed through a Supreme Court nomination in the coming weeks, signaling that a Senate Democratic majority could be open to forcing drastic changes to the Senate institution and the Supreme Court.

With Republicans in control of the Senate, Democrats have few tools at their disposal to block a simple majority vote on a Supreme Court nomination to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But Mr. Schumer indicated that Democrats would instead look to retaliate with institutional changes if they flipped the Senate in November.

Our number one goal must be to communicate the stakes of this Supreme Court fight to the American people, Mr. Schumer said, according to a Democrat on the call, who disclosed details of a private conversation on condition of anonymity. Everything Americans value is at stake.

Health care, protections for pre-existing conditions, womens rights, gay rights, workers rights, labor rights, voting rights, civil rights, climate change, and so much else is at risk.

A portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is displayed in a storefront in Manhattan.
A portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is displayed in a storefront in Manhattan.Credit...Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

A national poll conducted just days before Ruth Bader Ginsburgs death found that she was the most widely known jurist on the Supreme Court, and by a broad margin, those who recognized her tended to hold a favorable view.

Forty-four percent of respondents in the Marquette Law School poll expressed a favorable opinion of Justice Ginsburg, compared to just 19 percent who held a negative view.

That poll, the full results of which will be released next week, showed that the issue of staffing the Supreme Court may do more to galvanize Democrats than Republicans this November, in line with the findings of other recent polls. Among likely voters supporting Joseph R. Biden Jr., roughly three in five said that naming the next Supreme Court justice would be a very important motivating factor in their vote, compared to just 51 percent of President Trumps supporters, according to the Marquette survey.

In a separate Marquette poll last year, Americans said by a margin of 56 percent to 32 percent that they had little confidence in Mr. Trump to pick the right kind of person to be the next justice.

But the issue is not particularly salient among middle-of-the-road voters: Just 39 percent of independent voters said in the most recent poll that the naming of a justice would be highly important to their presidential vote, compared to roughly half of Republicans and 56 percent of Democrats.

Four years ago, when a Supreme Court vacancy opened up during an election year and then-President Barack Obama named Merrick Garland to fill it, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, refused to bring the nomination to a vote. In polls at that time, Americans broadly disapproved of Mr. McConnells decision. And the new Marquette poll finds that their feelings havent changed much: Almost three quarters of Americans said that it had been wrong not to hold hearings on Mr. Garlands nomination.

This years situation is similar, but different: With a Republican in the White House, Mr. McConnell has indicated that he will convene hearings if Mr. Trump picks a nominee, as the president said he would by next week. It is not yet clear what effect this will have on public opinion, as Democrats are already citing hypocrisy and vulnerable Senate Republicans up for re-election will have to decide whether to support a Trump nominee.

But the new Marquette poll had some encouraging news for the Republicans, at least on a theoretical level: A wide majority of Americans said that if a vacancy were to open up during the election year, they would support the Senate holding hearings. That included 71 percent of independents and 63 percent of Democrats.

A growing number of Democratic officials have called for a constitutional amendment to expand the size of the Supreme Court, as a way of adding balance to its ideological makeup and increasing diversity. The poll found that 61 percent of Democrats nationwide now support this proposal, while 65 percent of Republicans oppose it.

Canvassers with Mi Familia Vota collected voter registrations in Las Vegas this month.
Canvassers with Mi Familia Vota collected voter registrations in Las Vegas this month.Credit...Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

As campaigns prepare for an increasingly contentious election in November, with the Supreme Court on the ballot once again, voter registration efforts from both parties are sure to ramp up. In more than a dozen battleground states and across the country, deadlines to register are coming up in October, but almost half of states have same-day voter registration up until Election Day.

Here are the deadlines for each state.

Oct. 5: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Texas

Oct. 19: Pennsylvania

Oct. 23: Nebraska

Oct. 30: Wisconsin

Oct. 31: North Carolina*

Same-day voter registration on Nov. 3, Election Day: Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire

Oct. 4: Alaska, Rhode Island

Oct. 5: Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee

Oct. 6: Missouri

Oct. 9: New York, Oklahoma

Oct. 10: Delaware

Oct. 13: Kansas, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, West Virginia

Oct. 19: Alabama, South Dakota

Oct. 24: Massachusetts

Oct. 31: New Mexico

Same-day voter registration on Nov. 3, Election Day: California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming

*North Carolina has same-day voter registration, but only during early voting.

Amy McGrath, the Democratic challenger to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, said he was contradicting his stance on filling vacancies by supporting a floor vote.
Amy McGrath, the Democratic challenger to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, said he was contradicting his stance on filling vacancies by supporting a floor vote.Credit...Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

In the titanic political battle over a Supreme Court vacancy that is sure to upend the general election, numerous Democratic challengers all offered a clear and cohesive stance: any nomination should wait until after the presidential election.

In North Carolina, Cal Cunningham, the Democratic challenger, is locked in a close race with Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican. On Saturday, Mr. Cunningham noted that early voting had already started in the election, and was cause enough to hold back any nomination votes.

North Carolinians are already voting and will continue to do so in the coming weeks, Mr. Cunningham wrote on Facebook. They deserve that opportunity to have their voices heard, and then, it should be up to the next President and next Senate to fill the vacancy on our Court.

His opponent, Mr. Tillis, had released a statement early on Saturday saying he would back a nomination vote. A recent poll by The New York Times found Mr. Cunningham with a five-point lead over Mr. Tillis.

In Iowa, Theresa Greenfield, the Democratic challenger to Senator Joni Ernst, also called on the Senate to wait until after the election, noting the cases currently pending before the court.

The next Supreme Court Justice will have power over our access to health care, protections for pre-existing conditions, workers rights, and the rules of our democracy for the rest of their lives, Ms. Greenfield said in a statement. The only way to truly respect our independent voices in Iowa is by waiting to fill this seat until the next U.S. Senate and President were about to vote for take office.

Ms. Ernst indicated earlier this year that she would support any nomination hearings were a vacancy to open up during the final year of Mr. Trumps first term.

Sara Gideon, the Democratic challenger currently holding a slight lead over Senator Susan Collins in Maine, also called for the nomination vote to be held after the election.

Access to health care  including protections for pre-existing conditions  civil rights, reproductive rights and so much more are at stake, she said on Twitter. Mainers & Americans should have their voices heard, and the vacancy on the Supreme Court should be filled by the next President and Senate.

Ms. Collins on Saturday became the first Republican senator to take an official position after Justice Ginsburgs death against moving forward with a floor vote.

In Kentucky, Amy McGrath, the Democratic challenger to Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, lamented in a statement the quick pouncing on the death of a patriot for political purposes and noted that Mr. McConnell was contradicting his stance on filling vacancies" by supporting a floor vote.

Ill save the political rhetoric for another day, she wrote on Twitter. But I want Kentuckians to know: if the McConnell Rule was good enough in 2016, it should be good enough in 2020, and I will fight him every step of the way on this.

On Saturday afternoon, more than 100 protesters had gathered outside Mr. McConnells Louisville home, chanting vote him out.

In Georgia, Jon Ossoff, the Democratic challenger facing Senator David Purdue, pointed to the lawsuit before the Supreme Court regarding the Affordable Care Act and called for the nomination to come after the election.

For the sake of millions whose health care is at risk, with so much more on the line, with voting already underway: The people must speak at the ballot box first, Mr. Ossoff said on Twitter. Then let the Court reflect the will of our newly elected President and Senate.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also put out a statement and a fund-raising page with a focus on the Supreme Court.

The stakes have never been higher, the group wrote on Twitter. The future of the Supreme Court is on the line.

Video
Video player loading
Protesters rallied outside the home of Senator Mitch McConnell, after he said he would move forward with President Trumps nominee to replace Justice Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, reversing his 2016 position.CreditCredit...Jon Cherry/Getty Images
Joseph R. Biden Jr. rejected calls for expanding the size of the Supreme Court during the Democratic primary and has given little indication that he has embraced the idea in recent months.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. rejected calls for expanding the size of the Supreme Court during the Democratic primary and has given little indication that he has embraced the idea in recent months.Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Shaken by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, progressive groups and activist leaders are pressing Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, to lead the partys pushback against any attempts from President Trump and Republicans to seize the moment and fill her seat on the Supreme Court.

On Saturday morning, just 12 hours after her death was announced, groups on the partys left had settled into a holding pattern  to see what Republicans will do in Congress and what the next steps might be from Mr. Bidens campaign.

Some revived calls to add more justices to the bench in an attempt to nullify what they feel was a seat stolen by Republicans in 2016.

But most groups, understanding Mr. Bidens commitment to traditionalism and moderation, said his best role would be as resister-in-chief, pressuring Republicans to stick with previous commitments to not appoint a Supreme Court justice during an election year.

With that in mind, four liberal groups  People For the American Way, Alliance for Justice, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the National Womens Law Center  scheduled a press call for Saturday afternoon on the topic of how to pressure Republicans going forward.

Mondaire Jones, a progressive Democratic nominee to a New York House seat who is likely to win in November, said in a statement that expanding the court was an idea that Democrats should embrace.

We must expand the Supreme Court to 13 seats, and allow President Biden to fill those vacancies, Mr. Jones said. If we sit back and watch as another seat on the Supreme Court is stolen from us, we resign ourselves to a generations worth of defeat at the hands of six people installed by a right-wing, minoritarian government. We owe it to ourselves and to the American people to fight that looming doomsday scenario with every tool at our disposal.

For his part, Mr. Biden rejected calls for expanding the court during the Democratic primary, and has given little indication that he has embraced the idea in recent months. Still, progressives are trying to hold the line, pushing for bigger reforms even as moderate Democrats like Mr. Biden may reject them.

In the short term, each side is focused on applying public pressure to conservatives  particularly vulnerable Republican senators such as Martha McSally of Arizona, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Heather McGhee, the former president of Demos and a progressive leader, said the best actions for left-leaning Democrats right now was to target the Senate and push the next administration to embrace its ideals.

In 2021, we will fix the democracy the G.O.P. has broken: a modern, expanded court, an end to the Jim Crow relic filibuster, a right-to-vote constitutional amendment and statehood, she said, calling for statehood for the District of Columbia and the right to self-determination for Puerto Rico. First stop: flip the Senate.

Mark Kelly, the Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona, has been ahead of Senator Martha McSally, a Republican, in recent polls.
Mark Kelly, the Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona, has been ahead of Senator Martha McSally, a Republican, in recent polls.Credit...Conor E. Ralph for The New York Times

Democrats have almost no power to stop a pre-election vote on President Trumps nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, but they see a glimmer of hope in a bank-shot scenario if they capture a Senate seat in Arizona.

If Mark Kelly, the Democratic nominee  who leads Senator Martha McSally, a Republican, by 8 points in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll  wins, he could be seated in the Senate as early as Nov. 30.

Then come the ifs. If the Arizona results can be rapidly certified, if Senate Republicans hold a floor vote in the postelection lame-duck session, and if three Republicans defect, Mr. Kelly could, theoretically, cast the deciding vote to defeat Mr. Trumps as-yet unnamed pick to the high court.

Such a scenario is possible (if not probable) because Ms. McSally, who was sworn in in 2019, was appointed, not elected. The Arizona Senate race this year is a special election, and under state law the winner can be seated pending a final review of the election results, known as a canvass, completed at the end of November.

I think its clear that should Mr. Kelly win that seat, he would take office upon the canvass, said Timothy La Sota, the former general counsel for the Arizona Republican Party.

Lawyers said the process could be slowed by findings of significant irregularities, or lawsuits; There are also a few procedural choke points.

Still, state officials from both parties said they would do nothing to slow down the process of seating the winner as quickly as possible, no matter who wins.

Wed given this no thought prior to yesterdays news, said Daniel Scarpinato, chief of staff to Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who supports Mr. Trump. At first blush, it appears we have a limited role. But we are going to research the law and we are going to follow it.

Mr. Kelly has not yet commented on Mr. Trumps intention to ram through a nomination before the election, but Democrats close to him say he is opposed to it.

By contrast, Ms. McSally quickly announced on Friday that she backed a plan by Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, to force a floor vote on a nominee while Mr. Trump is president.

At 8:49 p.m., she tweeted out her condolences to Justice Ginsburgs family. Fifteen minutes later, she wrote, This U.S. Senate should vote on President Trumps next nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2016 and 2018, many analysts concluded that Supreme Court politics helped Republicans by helping to energize or consolidate conservative voters.

True or not, it certainly wasnt obvious ahead of time which side would benefit from a court vacancy, and the same can be said today, in the aftermath of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Theres no way to know exactly what will unfold, but a closer look at recent polls, including new New York Times/Siena College surveys, does provide reason to think that Joseph R. Biden Jr. might have as much  or more  upside on the issue than President Trump.

In Times/Siena polls of Maine, North Carolina and Arizona released Friday, voters preferred Mr. Biden to select the next Supreme Court justice by 12 percentage points, 53 percent to 41 percent of voters who wanted Mr. Trump to make the pick. In each of the three states, Mr. Biden led by just a slightly wider margin on choosing the next justice than he did over all.

Similarly, a Fox News poll last week found that voters nationwide trusted Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump  by seven points  to nominate the next Supreme Court justice. Here again, Mr. Biden led by a slightly wider margin on this issue than he led Mr. Trump.

Among issues favorable or unfavorable to the two candidates, appointing a Supreme Court justice ranked somewhere in the middle of those tested by the survey. It was a better issue for Mr. Trump than handling of the coronavirus or race relations, but a much better issue for Mr. Biden than the economy or law and order.

So far this year, Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump have tended to gain when the national political conversation focuses on their best issues. If the pattern holds and the most recent poll results are representative, its not obvious whether either candidate will benefit from a focus on the Supreme Court.

A closer look at the results suggests there might be some upside for Mr. Biden among persuadable and low-turnout voters. Voters who either werent backing a major-party candidate or who said they could still change their mind said they thought Mr. Biden would be better at choosing the next justice by an 18-point margin, 49 percent to 31 percent. And voters who said they werent almost certain or very likely to vote said they thought the same by an even larger 52-23 margin.

Of course, theres no guarantee that Mr. Biden will retain a lead on the issue. Perhaps Mr. Trumps standing on the issue will benefit if he rolls out a popular nominee. But another divisive fight over the Supreme Court might also prove to be the kind of exhausting, partisan conflict that leaves many voters seeking a more bipartisan approach to politics.

That might be good news for Mr. Biden, who enjoys a commanding lead on which candidate would do a better job of unifying America.

The flag was flown at half staff outside of the Supreme Court the morning after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.
The flag was flown at half staff outside of the Supreme Court the morning after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.Credit...Jason Andrew for The New York Times

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgs death revived talk about an idea that has been bandied about for years but, until recently, not feasibly considered by people in a position to enact it: court packing.

The term is commonly associated with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who pushed legislation in 1937 that could have expanded the Supreme Court from nine to as many as 15 justices.

The history is more complicated than the usual narrative suggests: Mr. Roosevelt, aiming to push older justices to step down, wanted to add a justice to the court for each sitting justice who refused to retire after 70.

More than eight decades later, the idea of expanding the court is back. In 2016, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, refused to hold a Senate vote on Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the court by President Barack Obama after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Mr. McConnell held the seat open until after the inauguration of President Trump, who nominated Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, a move that led some Democrats to suggest expanding the court. They argued that Republicans had stolen a seat that should have been filled by Mr. Obama, and that Democrats would be justified in adding seats to shift the ideological balance back.

Republicans have called the idea radical and undemocratic, and some Democrats have feared that it could backfire.

Although the Supreme Court has consisted of nine justices for well over a century, the Constitution does not require that number, and Congress changed the size of the court several times between its establishment and the Civil War.

Some undecided voters are weighing whether the Supreme Court vacancy will affect their decision.
Some undecided voters are weighing whether the Supreme Court vacancy will affect their decision.Credit...Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

In interviews with more than a dozen voters in battleground states on Friday night and Saturday morning, The Times found that Democratic and Republican voters were largely racing to partisan corners regarding how they think President Trump and Senate Republicans should proceed in filling the Supreme Court seat held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

But among independent and undecided voters, there was less of a pattern: Some said they were still mulling how the coming fight over the court could tilt their thinking  and their decision about which presidential candidate to support.

In an interview Friday afternoon inside the clothing store where she was working in Bemidji, Minn., the city where Mr. Trump held a rally later Friday night, Rachel Harris, 19, indicated that she was undecided about who to vote for in November.

But after hearing the news about Justice Ginsburg, Ms. Harris emailed Friday night to say she had made up her mind.

I will be voting for Biden, she wrote before raising the issue of abortion rights. I care about my rights, and they will be taken away if Trump continues to be president.

Brendan Tanner, a 23-year-old independent voter in Peoria, Ariz., was among those with a mixed mind. Mr. Tanner said he was leaning toward voting for Mr. Trump, but was also considering sitting out the election because he sees deep flaws in both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden. And if Mr. Trump were to press forward with a court nomination, it would only add to his list of grievances with the president.

Mr. Tanner said it wouldnt be fair to sneak in a Supreme Court pick with less than two months to go before the election.

When youre talking about a Supreme Court justice who is going to serve until they want to quit or until the end of their life, thats a huge decision thats going to affect generations  and thats something that needs to be considered very carefully, he said. I think it should wait.

But both Mr. Trumps and Mr. Bidens most fervent supporters were less circumspect.

On one side, there were Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters like Merrill Tufts, 51, of Winterville, N.C., and Lucila Flores, 61, of Phoenix who insisted that any move to replace Justice Ginsburg this close to the election would be inappropriate and politically motivated.

This is called imposing your will on somebody and your party upon the people, Mr. Tufts, a retired Marine said.

But Mr. Trumps supporters found little to be gained from delaying. His 2016 victory and the Republican majority in the Senate, they said, amounts to a use-it-or-lose-it proposition they could risk not having after the election.

Waiting for shuttle buses after attending the presidents rally in Bemidji, voter after voter said Mr. Trump should act quickly to seat a new justice.

Laurie Christianson of Moorhead, Minn., offered straightforward advice: Do it now.

 Matt Stevens, Jonathan Martin and Jon Hurdle

In a letter Friday night, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, urged his Republican colleagues to be cautious and keep your powder dry until we return to Washington.

But one G.O.P. senator is already making the case for not voting on a Supreme Court replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg until after Election Day.

If we fail before the election, it really deflates our side, said this senator. And even if we succeed, it takes the prize off the table. And I think the prize is pretty motivational.

In light of the sensitivities around the issue, and Mr. McConnells admonition, the lawmaker requested anonymity to offer a candid assessment of this extraordinary moment.

The senator, who had not spoken to Mr. McConnell, predicted the leader would come around to this calculation. Id be surprised if he doesnt, the senator said.

Why?

Because Mr. McConnell cares primarily about politics, and specifically retaining power, said the lawmaker. And to try to push a nominee through before the election could risk a demoralizing loss on the Senate floor  or simply force Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona into taking votes that would likely doom their electoral chances.

« Go back