Trump Shouldn't Barrel Ahead With High Court Nominee, Sen. Coons Says
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Senators find out soon who they will consider as a possible justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is moved to the U.S. Capital to lie in state on Friday. President Trump names her replacement Saturday. Senate Republicans are determined to move quickly on that replacement. Some want confirmation before Election Day, and Democrats are deciding what to do. Sen. Chris Coons is a Democrat from Delaware, and he sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator, welcome back to the program.
CHRIS COONS: Great to be on with you, Steve.
INSKEEP: Can a court nominee, any nominee, be properly considered in less than six weeks? Which is the time we have before the Election Day.
COONS: Well, Steve, I wish that the Republican majority would both follow the precedent they set in 2016 and allow us time to properly consider the background, the writings, the judicial philosophy of whoever may be nominated this weekend. We should not be barreling ahead with this. No presidential nominee to the Supreme Court has been confirmed in our history this close to a presidential election. I believe we're just 40 days out. And importantly, half the states - 25 states - have already begun early voting.
INSKEEP: Rush Limbaugh, conservative radio host, has been suggesting to the Republicans they should move this so quickly they don't even bother with a hearing, which would be before your committee. I'd like to know what the rules are, Sen. Coons. Is there any rule, any law, any requirement that there must be a hearing for whoever the president nominates?
COONS: The Constitution provides that the Senate shall give advice and consent, but there is nothing in the Constitution that gives the contours of exactly what that means. The Senate Judiciary Committee relies on tradition on the way that previous nominations have always been done. And I'm not aware of there being a rule that requires a hearing to be of any particular length - an hour, a day, a week. Traditionally, we have literally had weeks to consider the background of a nominee and at least four full days of confirmation hearings.
INSKEEP: But it sounds like if Republicans were to choose, they were in a rush, they could dispense with all of that.
COONS: The Republican majority seems bent on an exercise of raw political power. And if that's what they choose to do, there's nothing in our rules that allows us to prevent that. What I hear from Delawareans, Steve, is why does Mitch McConnell want to move heaven and Earth to confirm a nominee with just 40 days left instead of taking up and passing a bipartisan relief package for this pandemic? And why is the Supreme Court hearing an argument supported by President Trump the week after the election to take health care protections away from half of all Americans, the gender discrimination protections of the ACA and the preexisting condition protections from 100 million Americans, including the 6 million Americans infected in this pandemic who have new preexisting conditions? We should be focusing on those two issues - protecting health care, delivering relief from the pandemic.
INSKEEP: Well, there's another reason that Republicans have given for rushing a judge in, or from your perspective rushing the judge in. Vice President Pence has referred to it. The president referred to it. The president explicitly said yesterday, I want the justice on the Supreme Court so that justice can rule in what he expects to be a disputed election. He's already anticipating going to the Supreme Court with the results of this election, and he would like to choose the justice who would be one of the nine making a decision there. I guess my question for you is whether you think that justice, whoever it is, could rule fairly on a disputed election after the president has said that's the reason I want to appoint the person.
COONS: I think this creates a significant complication for the legitimacy of the court and any justice nominated this close to an election, rushed through in a partisan process where the president explicitly says I want my hand-picked justice in order to rule on my election. That justice should recuse herself. If you think about it, Justice Ginsburg's dying wish was that the voters should pick the next president and the next president pick her successor because she knew what was on the line, not just the future of the Affordable Care Act and gender and LGBTQ equality and labor rights and the environment but reproductive rights. Now we can add to that the election and the whole legitimacy of our election. Steve, I've learned in 10 years on the Foreign Relations Committee when a head of state elsewhere in the world with authoritarian tendencies tells you they intend to do something outrageous like not accept a peaceful transition after an election, something President Trump said yesterday, you should believe them.
INSKEEP: If there is a hearing, assuming that Republicans follow tradition and give a full hearing to the nominee, will you be asking the justice to recuse herself? And we're using herself because the president has said he's likely to nominate a woman.
COONS: I think that's an important question to raise. I think that needs to be pressed in whatever form by the nominee because, frankly, every standard of judicial conduct would suggest that where you have a complicated relationship with, where you have arguably an ethical complication as a judge, you should recuse yourself. I know this will be hotly debated by members of the Judiciary Committee, as well as legal ethicists, but I suspect many of us will end up pressing that question in whatever form.
INSKEEP: Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, always a pleasure. Thank you so much.
COONS: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.