Within the wake of reviews that Justice Stephen Breyer is retiring, the Senate now has one other main agenda merchandise to cope with within the coming months: a Supreme Court docket affirmation course of.
That process joins an extended checklist of priorities: Democrats must move a invoice on authorities funding by February 18 as a way to keep away from a authorities shutdown; they’re making an attempt to finish work on an replace to the Electoral Depend Act and a invoice aimed toward growing the US’s competitiveness with China within the subsequent few weeks; and so they hope to restart talks on their huge local weather and social spending initiative, the Construct Again Higher Act, in time to move at the least a part of it earlier than the 2022 midterms.
That’s quite a bit. Happily for Democrats, seating a brand new justice on the Supreme Court docket may very well be the simplest of their many duties.
Right here’s how the method would work logistically: First, President Joe Biden must nominate an appointee to take Breyer’s seat. As soon as he does, the method can transfer comparatively rapidly within the Senate — assume again to Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s expedited affirmation in October 2020. Former President Donald Trump introduced Barrett’s nomination on September 26 and the Senate confirmed her on October 26. This was one of many quickest confirmations in historical past — usually, the method takes somewhat over two months on common — however there’s no cause Democrats can’t replicate Republicans’ technique right here.
As a result of Supreme Court docket nominees solely want a easy majority to be confirmed, Democrats are in a position to unilaterally transfer by means of any appointment with their 50-person majority and the assistance of Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote. The principle difficulty they’ll have to deal with is sustaining occasion unity on the nominee, since they’d want each vote as a way to verify a justice if Republicans don’t assist the decide.
Senate Majority Chief Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) have but to offer particulars about when this course of might get underway, although each have stated they intend to deal with it rapidly as soon as it does. As CNN reported, Democrats are anticipated to weigh a brand new nominee earlier than the tip of the Supreme Court docket’s time period this summer season.
“President Biden’s nominee will obtain a immediate listening to within the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will probably be thought-about and confirmed by the complete United States Senate with all deliberate pace,” Schumer stated in a Wednesday assertion. There’s loads of precedent for Democrats to just do that.
There’s precedent for a speedy affirmation course of
Lawmakers want look no additional than the final Supreme Court docket affirmation course of for an instance of how rapidly the Senate is ready to approve a nominee if the votes are there.
Within the fall of 2020, Republicans had been in a position to maintain a affirmation listening to for Justice Amy Coney Barrett inside a couple of weeks of her nomination. It’s a course of Democrats might properly emulate for whoever Biden decides to appoint, holding a affirmation listening to, committee vote, and Senate vote in fast succession.
Due to how slender their majority is, and the even cut up of Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee, there may very well be some further steps wanted to advance Biden’s nominee to a ground vote if the committee’s approval vote ends in a tie. Primarily, Schumer might bypass the tie within the committee, and maintain a procedural vote relating to ground consideration of the nomination, which may move with a easy majority. However even with that step, the affirmation course of remains to be one that would transfer fairly rapidly.
“There’s nothing that technically stops the Democrats from shifting at breakneck pace to verify a successor to Justice Breyer,” says George Washington College political science professor Sarah Binder.
The vote hinges on Democratic unity
As has been the case with quite a few payments, a vote on the Supreme Court docket nominee will rely upon Democratic unity for the reason that occasion has such a slender majority.
All 50 members would want to again the nominee to ensure that them to advance if no Republicans vote in favor. Up to now, Democrats have caught collectively on most of Biden’s appointees, aside from a handful of picks together with former Workplace of Administration and Funds nominee Neera Tanden, who Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) opposed.
Any opposition from average Democratic lawmakers like Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to this Supreme Court docket decide might probably derail the nominee, although this final result appears unlikely given how united Democrats have been on Biden’s selections up so far.
Final yr, the Senate confirmed 40 of Biden’s judicial nominees, probably the most any current president has seen of their first yr. These nominees introduced extra range to the bench, and included quite a lot of ladies, folks of coloration, and public defenders.
Biden beforehand pledged to call the primary Black lady to the Supreme Court docket, a promise that a number of lawmakers pushed for him to ship on with this nomination. As Vox’s Ian Millhiser has reported, one of many potential contenders is Decide Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was confirmed to the DC Circuit Court docket final yr. Jackson was confirmed by a 53-44 majority on the time, an indication that she would doubtless have strong assist if she had been the Supreme Court docket nominee as properly.
Senators would ideally be capable to advance a Supreme Court docket affirmation whereas additionally engaged on legislative priorities just like the Construct Again Higher Act. But it surely’s doubtless that the affirmation course of will delay motion on payments due to how a lot of senators’ time and focus it is going to draw. As was the case with Trump’s impeachment trial in January 2021, anticipate lawmakers to say they’ll be capable to “stroll and chew gum on the similar time.” In actuality, nonetheless, there’ll most likely be trade-offs, particularly provided that lawmakers are prone to make getting a brand new Democratic nominee onto the Supreme Court docket a fundamental precedence.