Vermont political analysts weigh in on filling Supreme Court vacancy in election year

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We are just 40 days from the 2020 election, a cycle that coincides with a Supreme Court vacancy that President Donald Trump and Senate Republican say they intend to fill.

This, despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocking President Barrack Obama’s nominee following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death 10 months before the 2016 election.

On Thursday, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy said in a meeting of the Judiciary Committee that he opposes Republican efforts to fill the vacancy, considering what happened in 2016. “I’ve never seen such a politicization of the United States Supreme Court,” he said.

Trish Siplon, a political science professor at St. Michael’s College, said McConnell appeared to set a new precedent by refusing to hold hearings on Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee. But the decision to move forward with a Trump nominee, expected to be announced Saturday, is an “enormous departure from norms.”

“When Obama was faced with the replacement for Judge Scala, it was an election year,” she said. “But it was an election year where there was still 10 months to go.”

But Jared Carter, a professor at Vermont Law School, says the process for filling Supreme Court vacancies is spelled out in the Constitution, and although cries of hypocrisy are understandable, two wrongs don’t make a right.  

“I think we should follow [the process],” Carter said. “And, in fact, there’s been 24, I believe, Supreme Court vacancies during a presidential election year and 21 of those have been filled, so it’s not an uncommon occurrence.”

Carter says if we politicize the Supreme Court too much, American democracy is at risk. To aboid that, he said we should use the Constitution as a framework for filling vacancies.

“In the end, we all got to be able to circle back to the Constitution, make it better, strengthen it, but certainly not tear it up, tear it asunder, certainly not politicize the Supreme Court,” said Carter.

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