Senate Democrats plan to move quickly on successor to Justice Breyer

The sun sets on the US Supreme Court after it was reported US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire at the end of this term, in Washington, US, Jan 26, 2022. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Senate Democrats say they plan to move speedily to consider President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer, following the lead of Republicans who raced through the nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in a matter of weeks before the 2020 elections.

Holding a bare 50-seat majority that is under severe threat in November’s midterm elections, Democrats acknowledged the need to act fast, particularly since an illness or death of one of their members could deprive them of their numerical advantage and greatly complicate efforts to fill the seat.

“President Biden’s nominee will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, the majority leader, said Wednesday after plans for Breyer’s departure became public.

Democrats could confirm a successor to Breyer without any Republican support under Senate rules that shield a Supreme Court nomination from a filibuster, but they must remain firmly united to do so.

With the Senate split 50-50, Vice President Kamala Harris could be called upon to break a tie vote over any nominee, giving Democrats the upper hand as long as all of the members who usually vote with them rally behind whomever the president chooses.

But even with the numbers and the rules working in their favour, Democrats are well aware that they have a narrow path and that plans could go awry. They are wary of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, who has previously bedeviled Democrats on high court fights and is known for finding novel ways to use the chamber’s rules to his advantage, even when they appear stacked against him.

McConnell is generally eager to use any means at his disposal to delay or derail Democrats’ best-laid plans, particularly when it comes to the Supreme Court. In 2016, he summarily blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, citing the presidential election 10 months off. He then pushed Barrett through at President Donald Trump’s urging in the days before the 2020 election.

Democrats predicted Wednesday that Republicans would throw up procedural roadblocks and arguments in an effort to slow the process and sink a nominee they are likely to consider too liberal.

But leading Republicans conceded that Democrats could seat a new justice on their own, if necessary.

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