U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner announced Monday he “will vote to confirm” a qualified nominee put forward by President Donald Trump to fill a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“When a president exercises constitutional authority to nominate a judge for the Supreme Court vacancy, the Senate must decide how to best fulfill its constitutional duty of advice and consent,” he said in a news release Monday. “I have and will continue to support judicial nominees who will protect our Constitution, not legislate from the bench, and uphold the law. Should a qualified nominee who meets this criteria be put forward, I will vote to confirm.”
Trump said he plans to announce a nominee to fill the Supreme Court later this week.
After Ginsburg’s death from pancreatic cancer was announced Friday, questions quickly arose about whether a nominee for the seat would be voted on by the Senate before the election in November. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced that any candidate Trump nominated would be brought forward for a confirmation vote.
McConnell, Gardner and several other GOP senators such as Lindsay Graham, R.-S.C., made headlines in 2016 after the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia when they said they would not allow a vote on any candidate then-President Barack Obama nominated to the seat because of the presidential election occurring later that year.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” wrote McConnell in a news release shortly after Scalia’s death.
Gardner echoed that sentiment a month later after Obama announced the nomination of Merrick Garland to the open seat. In a news release in March 2016, he referenced the fact that many Supreme Court appointees had been delayed during election years under various administrations.
Critics have accused Senate Republicans of hypocrisy as their leadership expresses intent to bring a candidate forward for a vote before the Nov. 3 election, which is about six weeks away. Others, including former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is challenging Gardner for his seat this year, blasted Gardner for his about-face.
“I’m not surprised,” Hickenlooper said in a news release Monday night. “This is who Cory Gardner is – too weak to stand up to Trump and McConnell. Too scared to defend justice and equality or do what’s right. He’s proven that time and again.”
In a news release Friday night, Gardner called Ginsburg a “trailblazing leader.” In an event hosted in Grand Junction by Club 20, a Western Slope advocacy group, he said, “I hope that before the politics begin ... that we have some time for this country to reflect on the legacy of a great woman who rose to our nation’s highest court and the work that she has done for this nation.”
Gardner historically has not given early indications of his voting intent on controversial issues; for instance, he held off on stating his support for Justice Brett Kavanaugh until the day before the final confirmation vote. His office did not respond to The Durango Herald’s requests for comment.
Republicans currently hold a majority of 53 seats in the Senate. So far, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have indicated they oppose holding a vote this close to the election. Gardner has been cited by many as a potential holdout along with senators like Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who was the lone member of his party to vote to confirm Kavanaugh, have already announced they oppose a nomination, making it unlikely that any Democrat will support a Trump nominee for the seat before the election. If a total of four Republicans vote against a nominee, along with every Democrat, the vote will fail.
Both parties say a battle over the Supreme Court appointment has the potential to energize their bases and influence the coming election. Democrats are seeking to regain a Senate majority that they haven’t held since 2010. Colorado’s Senate race is being cited by many as a potential Democratic win, and some think Gardner’s actions in the coming appointment process could make a difference. In the hours after Ginsburg’s death, Democrats around the country reported a surge in donations.
Other senators facing tight re-election races, such as Martha McSally, R-Ariz., have indicated they plan to support Trump’s nominee.
The confirmation process for a Supreme Court justice usually takes several months; if the GOP plans to try to confirm a nominee before the election, the schedule will have to be accelerated considerably. Trump said Monday he plans to announce his nominee for the vacant seat by the end of the week.
John Purcell is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.