More in GOP suggest leaving 8 on high court
Senators say they’ll block any Clinton pick to fill vacancy
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has existed with its full complement of nine justices for close to 150 years, no matter who occupied the White House.
Now some Republican lawmakers suggest they would be fine with just eight for four years more rather than have Hillary Clinton fill the vacancy.
The court has operated with eight justices for the past eight months as Republicans controlling the Senate have blocked confirmation hearings for President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his GOP colleagues have insisted that voters should have a say, choosing the next president in Tuesday’s election. The 45th president, either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump, would fill the vacancy created when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February.
But several Republicans have said if the voters elect Clinton, they’ll block her nominees, effectively abandoning their advice and consent role for her term.
“If Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court,” North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr said in an audio recording of his meeting with GOP volunteers Saturday.
GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Ted Cruz of Texas have also suggested blocking any Clinton nominees. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Sen Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., may be backtracking on voters having an election say on the direction of the court. said Monday night that he “can’t imagine” voting for any Clinton nominee though he stopped short of vowing to block a pick from a Democratic president.
McConnell says the next president will make the nomination to fill the current vacancy.
Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said that the next president should choose the nominee.
Grassley, R-Iowa, said last week that he would hold confirmation hearings on a nominee whoever wins the presidency. Asked about the court operating with eight justices, Grassley said, “Now that would be contrary to what I’ve said for seven months.”
The size of the court is set by federal law and has changed over the years, but has been nine justices since 1869.
When vacancies arise, they usually are filled within months, if not weeks.
But there have twice been stretches of more than two years where the court was one justice short. Another six vacancies lasted more than a year.
The most recent was in 1969 and 1970, when Justice Abe Fortas resigned and the Senate rejected two of President Richard Nixon’s nomi- nees before confirming Justice Harry Blackmun.
If Clinton wins the presidency, she will have to decide whether she wants Garland as the nominee.
Clinton could decide that she doesn’t want a messy Supreme Court nomination fight to define her first months in office and ask Obama to re-nominate Garland as soon as the new Congress is sworn in Jan. 3.
A Democratic Senate could try to confirm him.
If she decides she wants to make the nomination herself, Clinton would be under pressure from liberal groups to nominate someone to the left of Garland.
The balance of the high court has been one of Trump’s most potent messages in the election.
Trump has warned that if Clinton is elected, the court will shift to the left.
He’s already suggested 21 conservative state and federal judges whom he would consider nominating if he becomes president, a bid to ease concerns among GOP faithful about his candidacy.
One of his suggested justices is Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who called for Trump to step down after news broke of a 2005 recording of Trump making lewd comments about groping women.