Within hours of the U.S. Supreme Court justice’s passing Friday at age 87, Democratic calls for Republican incumbent Cory Gardner to hold off on voting for a replacement until after the Nov. 3 contest started growing to a fever pitch.
“The Senate must not confirm a new Supreme Court Justice until after a new president is sworn in next year,” former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Gardner’s Democratic challenger, said in a written statement late Friday. “Sen. Gardner must uphold the commitment he set more than four years ago and allow the president elected in November to make this decision.”
The focus on the Supreme Court could make it more difficult for Gardner to continue working to sell his accomplishments to Coloradans and tear down Hickenlooper as he looks to close a significant deficit in his polling and approval numbers.
“It’s already hard for him to get that message through in a media environment that’s so focused on the pandemic and the economy and civil unrest,” said Seth Masket, a University of Denver political science professor. “This is just one more thing making it harder for him to focus voters on favorable ground for him.”
Gardner on Friday released a statement on Ginsburg’s death, calling her a “trailblazing leader.” But he didn’t address how he thinks Senate Republicans should handle replacing her. His spokespeople, both in his Senate office and for his reelection campaign, did not return multiple messages from The Colorado Sun seeking comment.
Then on Saturday afternoon, while speaking at Club 20 in Grand Junction, he declined to say whether he could vote to confirm a new justice before the November election. Now is a time to mourn, he said. “There is time for debate. There is time for politics,” he said. “But the time, for now, is to pray for the (Ginsburg) family and to make sure that we keep their family in our hearts and prayers as we mourn as a nation.”
Gardner was among the Senate Republicans in 2016 who successfully pushed to hold off on picking a replacement for conservative Justice Antonin Scalia after he died in February 2016, nine months before that year’s presidential contest. As a result, President Barack Obama’s nomination of jurist Merrick Garland to replace Scalia never moved forward.
Instead, Coloradan Neil Gorsuch was tapped by Trump to fill the vacancy on Jan. 31, 2017, just 11 days after the new president was sworn into office.
“I think we’re too close to the election,” Gardner said in arguing that the Senate hold off on replacing Scalia in 2016. “The president who is elected in November should be the one who makes this decision.”
Gardner, who has already become a source of national focus over how he may handle the situation given he’s in a difficult reelection bid, typically waits until the 11th hour to disclose his thinking on tough votes.
That’s how he handled the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who faced sexual assault allegations, and Trump’s impeachment trial earlier this year, as well the president’s use of national emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall in 2019.
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