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Could Justice Ginsburg's Seat Be Filled Before The Election?


We return to our top story today. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of cancer. She was 87 years old. And as the leading liberal dissenter on a conservative court, her death will open a political fight. In Ginsburg's final statement, she said that her most fervent wish is that she is not replaced until a new president is installed. But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced the Senate will vote to fill the Supreme Court vacancy she leaves behind. NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis is here with the latest.

Susan, can you talk more about the statement from Mitch McConnell?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Well, Mitch McConnell made clear this evening that what he's been saying for the last two years is still true. If there was a vacancy before the election, he would move to fill it. His office - just maybe less than two hours since the news of her death, he put out a statement saying that, quote, "the Senate would move forward with President Trump's nominee." He did not offer timing on that matter, but it seems likely that he would try to move it before the election. And he's already receiving some rhetorical support from Republican senators like Martha McSally of Arizona, herself up for a tough reelection bid this year.

CORNISH: Democrats - what are they saying so far?

DAVIS: Well, Senate minority leader - Chuck Schumer, who's the top Democrat in the Senate, put out a statement essentially quoting Mitch McConnell from back in 2016, when he said that he did not believe that they - the Senate should vote to fill a nominee before the election. That was the rationale that McConnell used to hold up President Obama's nominee of Merrick Garland to fill the seat of former Justice Antonin Scalia. Clearly, McConnell not going to pay any mind to that, but it also does suggest that this is going to be a stark partisan battle on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats overwhelmingly this evening coming out in opposition to any movement on a Supreme Court nomination before the election.

CORNISH: And yet, as you said, Mitch McConnell says he would like to hold a vote. We're 46 days from Election Day. Is it even possible to do something as enormous as a Supreme Court nominee process in this time?

DAVIS: It's possible, but it's going to be really tough. The average time it takes to a nomination - not just a vacancy but a nomination by a president to confirmation - is generally about 67 to 70 days. As you noted, it's 46 days before the election. Normally to get something - a nomination, especially a potentially controversial nomination through the Senate, you're going to need to take more time than that. Republicans are going to need to be unified here to have a chance for this to happen. I think it's safe to assume they're not going to get any Democratic support on this. So it's going to turn really quickly to these vulnerable senators and what they are going to do. Are they going to line up behind Mitch McConnell? - thinking of senators like Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia - particularly the women in the Senate and women in the Senate who have supported abortion rights in the past. Remember. The vacancy on this court for Ruth Bader Ginsburg is very quickly and likely to become a question about the future of Roe v. Wade in this country, especially if this is a vacancy that could tip the ideological balance of the court to conservatives.

CORNISH: Has anyone heard from any of those senators you mentioned?

DAVIS: Well, Lisa Murkowski has said previously that she would - believes that they should not vote until after inauguration. Susan Collins has, in the past, indicated the same thing. Where they go now, though, when it's not just theoretical, when it's real, remains to be seen. Most of the responses from these senators in question tonight have just been condolences and grieving. Very quickly, they're going to need to say whether they will support moving forward with this process because it's going to have to happen very soon.

CORNISH: That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.

Thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.