Washington: The death of US supreme court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has injected a volatile element into the last stretch of the already turbulent presidential race, potentially shifting the focus from the coronavirus pandemic and the stagnant economy into a political battle over her successor.
Political strategists say that now it is an existential fight over civil rights, abortion, immigration, and the future of health care for millions of Americans that will further galvanize voters and activists in both parties in a contest that had already reached fever pitch, reports Reuters.
“This interjects a real wild card into the race,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to Harry Reid when he was Senate leader.
The death of Ginsburg, a fierce advocate for women’s rights and the court’s leading liberal voice, gives Trump a chance to expand its conservative majority with a third appointment at a time of deep divisions in the US and fewer than 50 days before the election. Trump said on Saturday that he would nominate a successor “without delay”.
“This is going to set off a titanic battle. This could seriously affect the election,” said David Gergen, a political adviser who has served four US presidents, Republican and Democratic.
Trump, seeking re-election amid the triple whammies of the public health crisis, economic crisis and turmoil over racial injustice, already has appointed two conservatives to lifetime posts on the court, Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday he intends to act on any nomination Trump makes, and Democrats immediately called for the seat to be kept vacant until after January 20, when the winner of the November 3 election will be sworn in.
Meanwhile, President Trump has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he does not win the November 3 election, while suggesting that result will be challenged in court. He said at a White House event Wednesday that he believes the country’s highest court would have to weigh in on the election.
“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court,” the President said. “And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”
There was a blowback even from the Republicans. Senate leader Mitch McConnell joined other GOP lawmakers in rallying to the defense of constitutional government on Thursday. “The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th. There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792,” McConnell wrote in a tweet.
“The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our Republic. America’s leaders swear an oath to the Constitution. We will uphold that oath,” representative Liz Cheney, who leads the House of Representatives Republican Conference, wrote on Twitter.