Democrats Play Defense on the Supreme Court
With the midterms looming, Democrats rush to fill the upcoming SCOTUS vacancy.
This week SCOTUS Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement. Breyer is seen as a reliable liberal vote on a court that leans to the right. His announcement has caused some concerns amongst Democrats, who feel that they must fill his seat quickly whilst the Senate remains evenly balanced.
At 83 years-old Breyer is eager to avoid the mistake some liberals believe Ruth Bader Ginsburg committed. Ginsburg, an iconic left-wing judge, was encouraged to resign whilst the Democrats enjoyed control of the US House and Senate during part of the Obama Administration. In 2013, Ginsburg, then aged 80 years-old, could have retired and allowed a solid liberal to replace her. She instead remained on the SCOTUS until her death in 2020, by which point the Democrats no longer controlled the Senate and were unable to replace her with a like-for-like liberal justice. Breyer is keen not to repeat this.
Democrats are hopeful that the nomination of a Black woman justice may be enough to win over centrist Republicans in the Senate like Mitt Romney or Susan Collins. The favorite to succeed Breyer is Kentaji Brown Jackson, currently serving as a judge on the DC Circuit. The Democrats fear that the midterms may see the Republicans seize overall control. Were this to happen, it is unlikely Biden could secure any nomination to the SCOTUS. As a result, their only hope is to rely on Republican centrists to win the vote.
The Democrats will not change the ideological balance of the SCOTUS with a pre-midterm vote. The Democrats are essentially playing defense i.e., maintaining at least one reliable liberal on the court, rather than risk losing his seat to a solid Republican in the event the Republicans triumph in the midterms. Our research on battleground states has identified a number of Democrat Senate seats that are vulnerable in this way.
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