President Donald Trump announced he will nominate someone to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by the end of the week. He also said he expects the Senate to vote on the nominee before the US presidential election.
Here are the key steps to replacing the late progressive justice, including the favorites to take her spot — and what Democrats can do to stop it.
Timeline and procedure
Nine justices serve on the Supreme Court, the US’ highest court.
The president nominates candidate justices, but the Senate must vote to confirm them.
Trump said he would announce his nominee “Friday or Saturday,” marking the start of the confirmation process in the Republican-controlled Senate.
First up is the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Trump ally Lindsey Graham. After a preparatory period, the 22 committee members will question the candidate during a public hearing.
One of the committee members is the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Kamala Harris. The California senator and former prosecutor is renowned for her incisive interrogating skills.
If a majority of the committee members approve the nominee, then the candidacy moves to the Senate floor. A simple 51-vote majority is needed to confirm the lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
Republicans currently hold 53 seats versus the Democrats’ 47. Two moderate Republican senators have said they do not think the Senate should vote before the presidential election.
Even if three Republican senators break ranks and vote against the nominee, the GOP will still have enough votes: the vice president, Mike Pence, is given the decisive vote in case of a 50-50 tie.
According to a congressional report from the summer of 2018, it took an average of nearly 70 days to move from a nomination to a final vote in the Senate.
There are only 43 days left before the presidential election.
Democrats have pushed back against the timeline, pointing out that in 2016, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell blocked the nomination of a replacement for conservative Justice Antonin Scalia — 10 months ahead of the presidential election.
McConnell argued then that voters should be allowed to choose, noting at the time that the Senate and White House were not controlled by the same party.
Democrats have demanded that they wait not only for the election results to vote on a nominee, but also — if Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins — for him to assume office in January.
The Democrats have few options to delay the vote.
“We have our options… arrows in our quiver,” said House speaker Nancy Pelosi, though she offered few details on what those options might be.
Reporters have asked if her party would launch a new impeachment process against Trump or his attorney general, Bill Barr, to prevent a vote before the election.
Pelosi ruled out the possibility of a government shutdown, a paralyzing option that would occur if Democrats refused any budgetary agreement with the Republicans before the end of the fiscal year on September 30.
A shutdown would be” catastrophic,” she said Monday.
What remains is for Democrats to threaten what they would do should they win the White House and the Senate, where they could retake the majority on November 3.
Several big party names have promised to reform the Supreme Court by increasing the number of justices to 15, five of whom would be chosen unanimously by the other 10.
Doing so would depoliticize the nation’s highest court, Democrats argued.
– The favorites –
Two women were at the top of Trump’s list of potential nominees on Monday.
One is Amy Coney Barrett, a 48-year-old federal appeals court judge based in Chicago. A fervently anti-abortion Catholic and an academic, she has been praised for her well-thought-out arguments but has a limited experience in the courtroom.
She has only been a federal judge since 2017, when she was appointed by Trump.
The second candidate is Barbara Lagoa, 52, a federal judge from Miami.
Lagoa is “excellent, she’s Hispanic, she’s a terrific woman,” Trump told reporters. “We love Florida.”
Analysts said Lagoa, as a Cuban-American, could help Trump win votes in the key state of Florida.