Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed by the U.S. Senate this week, making good on the promise of President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to seat the conservative nominee before the November election.
Arkansas Money & Politics reached out to members of the state’s congressional delegation and their 2020 general election opponents with two questions. We asked for their thoughts on the rushed nomination process and the intention of some national Democrats to “pack the court” if they win the presidency and take the Senate. Not all responded, but the opinions of those who did are included below.
“What is your opinion on whether or not a sitting president and Senate should make a Supreme Court nomination during an election year?”
U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R): “President Trump is fulfilling his constitutional duty to nominate an individual to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. Historically, in a presidential election year, when a U.S. president and the Senate majority represent the same political party, a new justice has been nominated and confirmed. The Senate is choosing to exercise its role in confirming a nominee to the nation’s highest court.”
James Arnold, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R): “Senator Cotton believes that Senate Republicans have a duty to advise and consent on President Trump’s judicial appointments — a duty mandated by the 2018 election when the American people increased the Senate’s Republican majority.”
Ricky Dale Harrington Jr., Libertarian candidate for Cotton’s Senate seat: “The president should nominate and the Senate should confirm Supreme Court justices during an election year. It should have been done in 2016 with Merrick Garland, and it should have been done now with Amy Coney Barrett. Arguments over this show a dangerous politicization that is gripping what is supposed to be our most independent and thoughtful branch of government.”
U.S. Rep. French Hill (R) of the Second District: Hill, who is opposed by Democrat state Sen. Joyce Elliott, said he was in favor of the president and the Senate moving forward with the Supreme Court nomination before the election.
“That’s been the history of the United States. Looking over our history, it has happened 29 times or so, and 19 of those times the president and the Senate were of the same party, and the nominee was successfully put through 17 times. It’s the president’s job, and it’s the job of the Senate to provide advice.”
Hill noted that the president’s obligation is to nominate and approve nominees “over the course of a four-year term, not a three-year term, a three-and-a-half year term, or any other amount of time.”
Celeste Williams, Democrat opposing Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Womack in the Third District: “This is really a Senate issue, but I do believe the president should be allowed to make a SCOTUS [Supreme Court of the United States] nomination at any time during his or her presidency, just as President Obama was entitled to nominate Merick Garland many months for the 2016 election.
“However, as far as the Senate goes — Mitch McConnell sets the agenda on what business comes before that chamber, and I would like to see this Senate embrace the passing of another meaningful COVID relief package as fervently as they’ve embraced this SCOTUS nomination. People are hurting, and the Senate should be working toward solutions to help families and small businesses.”
“What is your opinion on whether or not the number of Supreme Court justices should be increased?”
Boozman: “For Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to threaten drastic, destabilizing actions – including adding seats to the Supreme Court – because he doesn’t support the president’s nominee demonstrates his party’s intentions to politicize our courts.”
Arnold for Cotton: “[Cotton] does not support court-packing, a deeply unpopular and partisan move that would fundamentally damage the Supreme Court’s integrity.”
Harrington: “I do not believe the Supreme Court number should be increased. It would escalate this already problematic arms race of politicizing our nation’s high court. As your senator, I would protect the judicial branch from this and further impropriety that flies in the face of what the founding fathers had in mind.”
Hill: “No. The Constitution was silent on how many justices should be on the Supreme Court, and over the history of the country, over the last 150 years, Congress has settled on this number of nine as the proper number for this incredibly important responsibility to make sure that our laws are keeping with the Constitution. The Court is not a legislative body.
“When we have legislative differences between parties and states, those differences should be resolved by legislators. We shouldn’t be adding justices to the court because we’re trying to steer it one way or another.”
Williams: “I would not take any major structural reforms of our government institutions lightly. However, we must recognize that the power of each of our three branches of government has shifted in favor of the Supreme Court. I believe the U.S. Congress has allowed that to happen by failing to pass meaningful bipartisan legislation and failing to hold executive power in check. Major reforms like increasing the number of Supreme Court justices are not the only solution to this issue.
“We must stop sending the same career politicians over and over again to Congress, when they consistently refuse to do the work required to accomplish meaningful change on the issues facing everyday Americans like helping families and small business survive and thrive during this pandemic; expanding healthcare to all; demanding fair pay for hard work; and making sure everyone — especially billionaires and multinational corporations — pay their fair share in taxes.”