It’s Monday, September 21, 2020. Election Day is 43 days away. The first presidential debate is 8 days away. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.
In today’s newsletter: The latest on the brewing Supreme Court confirmation battle... including a special contribution from Anna Salvatore, the founder of the High School SCOTUS blog, on the two women atop President Trump’s shortlist.
Plus: A new episode of the Wake Up To Politics Podcast is in podcast feeds now. The episode is a deep dive into the past and future of presidential debates, featuring interviews with author Alan Schroeder and award-winning debate coach Ed Lee. Listen here.
Trump prepares to name Supreme Court nominee this week
President Donald Trump told rallygoers in North Carolina on Saturday night that he would announce his nominee to succeed the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week — and pledged that his choice “will be a woman.”
The announcement will likely come on Friday or Saturday, Trump told Fox News in an interview this morning. He also said that he has narrowed down his shortlist to five names. Judges Amy Coney Barrett of the Seventh Circuit, who is a favorite of social conservatives, and Barbara Lagoa of the Eleventh Circuit, a Latina from Florida who could provide Trump a political boost in the key state, are reportedly the frontrunners.
As the White House furiously vets potential justices, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is preparing to move quickly to usher Trump’s eventual nominee to confirmation. McConnell pledged in a statement Friday that “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” although two GOP senators already broke with him this weekend and called for a vote to wait until after the election.
“In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the President or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who is currently locked in a fierce re-election battle, said in a statement on Saturday.
“I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election,” Murkowski echoed on Sunday.
With his 53-member majority, McConnell must avoid losing two more Republicans to ensure a successful confirmation vote. (If he loses one more, the vote would be 50-50, and Vice President Mike Pence could break the tie.) There are only a few other GOP senators seen as potential “no” votes, including Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who bucked his party to support President Trump’s removal from office, and Cory Gardner (R-CO), who is facing an uphill battle for a second term.
A number of other vulnerable senators, including Joni Ernst (R-IA), Martha McSally (R-AZ), and Thom Tillis (R-NC), have already said they will back the eventual nominee. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who is staring down a serious re-election challenge for the first time in his career, promised in a series of tweets on Saturday to support Trump “in any effort to move forward regarding the recent vacancy created by the passing of Justice Ginsburg.”
Graham is one of several Republican senators who — as recently as 2018 — said he would not support filling a Supreme Court vacancy in the last year of a president’s term, drawing on the precedent they set in blocking President Barack Obama from naming a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.
What has changed since then? Graham pointed to Democratic conduct during Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings in 2018 as a rationale for the reversal. Other Republicans, including McConnell, have said that the 2016 precedent only applies when the White House and Senate are controlled by opposing parties.
Senate Democrats, who are also stepping away from their 2016 stance that the ninth seat on the Supreme Court must be filled, have warned Republicans that they will retaliate if Trump’s nominee is confirmed just before or after the election. If Democrats win back the majority In November, “nothing is off the table,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reportedly told colleagues on a conference call, including elimination of the legislative filibuster or the addition of new seats to the Supreme Court.
Such a court-packing scheme has already generated support among some congressional Democrats. “Mitch McConnell set the precedent. No Supreme Court vacancies filled in an election year,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said on Twitter. “If he violates it, when Democrats control the Senate in the next Congress, we must abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court.”
Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, also urged Republicans in a Philadelphia speech on Sunday to “follow your conscience” and vote against Trump’s nominee. “If Donald Trump wins the election, then the Senate should move on his selection and weigh the nominee he chooses fairly,” Biden said. “But if I win this election, President Trump’s nominee should be withdrawn and I should be the one who nominates Justice Ginsburg’s successor.”
Both the Trump and Biden campaigns believe the confirmation battle has the potential to shake up the 2020 race and motivate their bases. The Trump campaign has already begun selling “Fill That Seat” t-shirts, echoing a chant that rung out at his Saturday rally, while Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue announced taking in an eye-popping $103 million between Ginsburg’s death on Friday and noon on Sunday.
However — while the victor in the fight for Ginsburg’s seat will likely influence American life for a generation — it may not end up influencing the presidential campaign much. The 2020 race has been remarkably consistent thus far: an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday showed Biden leading Trump, 51% to 43%.
And where did the same poll show the race in February, even before the coronavirus spread throughout the nation? In virtually the same position: Biden 52%, Trump 44%.
Meet the top two judges on Trump’s shortlist
By Anna Salvatore
One day after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of cancer at age 87, President Trump pledged at a rally that he would nominate a female jurist to succeed her. There are 12 women candidates on Trump’s public list of potential Supreme Court picks, but two in particular have drawn the most speculation.
Amy Coney Barrett’s name may be familiar from her 2017 confirmation hearings for the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Even then, when she gained attention after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) accused her of being dogmatically Catholic, the young Notre Dame law professor was floated as a future pick for the Supreme Court because of her effulgent conservative credentials.
Coney Barrett clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia as a young lawyer. Like her former boss, she feels that judges should interpret the Constitution based on what its words meant at the time of ratification — an “originalist” method that often but not always yields results favorable to social conservatives. Like many current occupants of the Supreme Court, she has also studiously avoided speaking about controversial topics such as abortion or gun rights, leaving a short paper trail from which we can predict her future jurisprudence.
What we do know is that the 48 year-old Coney Barrett is a frontrunner for the nomination. Her commitment to originalism would place her firmly on the conservative wing of the Supreme Court alongside Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, and her youth ensures that she could anchor that wing for decades. At the same time, her scholarship shows that she will not always overrule liberal decisions which she disputes. In this respect she differs from Justice Thomas, who avows that any decisions that are incompatible with the Constitution must be overturned regardless of their age or importance.
Barbara Lagoa is a less conspicuous pick than Coney Barrett, although Fox News reports that the two women are President Trump’s current favorites. Lagoa, 52, served first as a Florida Supreme Court justice and then, for the past year, as a judge on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. If nominated to the Supreme Court, Lagoa would be the second Latina justice after Sonia Sotomayor and the first-ever Cuban American. She would not, however, be the only member of the Federalist Society, a debate and activism group that has counted several right-leaning justices among its ranks.
An adviser to President Trump told the Washington Post that they “like the idea of picking” Lagoa, in part because she attended an Ivy League law school and in part because she would add racial diversity to the Court. The Post also reported that Lagoa, the daughter of Cuban exiles, is seen as a politically advantageous pick for the president as he seeks to court Hispanics in her native Florida ahead of the November election. The president and his aides are now “trying to get up to speed on her,” because compared to Coney Barrett she is an unknown quantity.
The differences between Coney Barrett and Lagoa do not seem immense. Both are young female judges with ties to the Federalist Society, and both would solidify a six-justice conservative majority on the Supreme Court that seeks to shrink the administrative state and expand the executive’s unitary power. To many Democrats and Republicans alike, the most pressing question is whether Coney Barrett and Lagoa would defend landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade — and the answer is likely no.
Are you a student journalist interested in contributing a piece to Wake Up To Politics on a specific topic in the news — local, national, or international? Send me your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always happy to feature young voices writing about subjects worthy of attention.
The U.S. death toll from coronavirus is inching towards 200,000. As of 8 a.m. Eastern Time, more than 199,500 Americans have succumbed to the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll is also approaching a grim milestone: 1 million deaths from the coronavirus.
Joe Biden’s campaign continues to boast a vast financial advantage over President Trump’s. According to figures released by the campaigns Sunday, Biden entered September with $466 million in the bank — compared to $325 million for Trump. Those numbers represent a stark turnaround from the spring, when Trump went into the general election campaign with the financial upper hand.
President Trump said Saturday that he has signed off on a deal struck by TikTok, Walmart, and Oracle to avoid a ban of the Chinese social media app. The three companies will form a new outfit, TikTok Global, of which Beijing-based ByteDance would still retain majority ownership. As an agreement continues to be formalized, the Commerce Department delayed the deadline for TikTok’s removal from U.S. app stores — which was set to occur Sunday — to September 27. President Trump claimed that $5 billion from the deal will go to a new U.S. history education fund, although it is unclear if that is correct.
All times Eastern.
President Donald Trump will travel to Ohio to speak at campaign events in Dayton at 5 p.m. and Swanton at 7 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. and resume consideration of the nomination of Edward Hulvey Meyers to be a Judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The chamber will vote at 5:30 p.m. to adance Meyers’ nomination.
The House will convene at 12 p.m. and vote on 41 pieces of legislation.
The Supreme Court is on its summer recess.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will deliver remarks at 3:15 p.m. in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will attend virtual fundraisers.
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