Grassley won’t oppose Supreme Court hearings

Sen. Chuck Grassley has indicated he won’t oppose holding hearings for a Supreme Court nominee, saying he will evaluate the nominee on merits once hearings are underway.


Sarah Watson

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, talks to reporters at the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference in Des Moines Friday, August 17, 2018.

Caleb McCullough, Politics Editor

Update Sept. 22: Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he would not oppose holding hearings for a Supreme Court nominee this year, a reversal on his positions from as late as July of this year.

In a statement on Monday, Grassley said he would cooperate with the hearings, noting that both chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had made clear their intent to move forward with proceedings.

“Over the years, and as recently as July, I’ve consistently said that taking up and evaluating a nominee in 2020 would be a decision for the current chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Senate Majority Leader,” he said in the statement. “Both have confirmed their intentions to move forward, so that’s what will happen. Once the hearings are underway, it’s my responsibility to evaluate the nominee on the merits, just as I always have.”

Grassley was the face of the Senate’s efforts to block hearings and a vote on Merrick Garland, the judge nominated by President Obama in 2016 to replace Justice Antonin Scalia after Scalia’s death.

Grassley reiterated the defense of several Republican senators, saying the divided government under President Obama in 2016 made the situation different from 2020, when Republicans hold both the White House and the Senate.

“While there was ambiguity about the American people’s will for the direction of the Supreme Court in 2016 under a divided government, there is no such ambiguity in 2020,” he said.

Editor’s note: This update has been added to reflect Sen. Grassley’s most recent statements. The original article is below.

All eyes are on the U.S. Senate after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg created an opening in the nation’s highest court less than two months before Election Day.

Ginsburg, who was nominated to the court by President Bill Clinton and served in the office for 27 years, died Friday from complications of pancreatic cancer. The 87-year-old jurist was a fierce advocate of women’s rights and was revered by many Americans as a feminist icon who pioneered the way for other female legal scholars.

Now, the Republican Senate is weighing the decision to confirm President Trump’s eventual nominee to replace Ginsburg during an election year. After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016, Republicans in the Senate blocked hearings and a vote on President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, saying the American people should have a say in the next justice.

Iowa’s U.S. Senators are split in past statements on whether they would confirm Trump’s appointment in an election year.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2016, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, drew fire from Democrats for not holding hearings for Garland.

Since then, Grassley, who is still on the judiciary committee, has held to that position. He said in 2018 and again in July that the Senate shouldn’t hold hearings for a vacancy on the court that happens during the last year of Trump’s first term, citing the 1992 “Biden Rule,” when then-Senator Joe Biden said President George H.W. Bush should not nominate a justice during an election year.

“They set the pattern, I didn’t set the pattern,” Grassley said on Iowa Press in May of 2018. “But it was very legitimate that you can’t have one rule for Democratic presidents and another rule for Republican presidents.”

Grassley didn’t update his position or make a statement on a potential Trump nominee since Friday, but he released a statement commemorating Ginsburg’s career and praising her legal mind and tenacity.

“For more than a quarter century on the highest court in the land, Justice Ginsburg fought tirelessly for greater justice, equality and opportunity for all people,” the statement said. “She was a trailblazer in so many ways and for so many people.”

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who is also on the judiciary committee, said on Iowa Press in July that she would support holding hearings for a Supreme Court nominee during the election year, including in a lame-duck session if Trump does not win re-election in November.

Ernst said the fact that Republicans hold the White House and the Senate means there won’t be disagreement on a nominee, and that makes the situation different from 2016.

“This is a different scenario where you have a Republican president and a Republican Senate,” she said in July. “There’s likely not to be a lot of disagreement when it comes to the selection of a justice.”

Ernst, who is in a high-profile race with Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield, drew criticism Friday night when a campaign fundraising email went out shortly after Ginsburg’s death.

“If Conservatives fail to protect the White House and the Senate majority in November, we will place the power of the nominee into the Left’s hands,” the email, which was asking for campaign donations, said.

Ernst released a statement later apologizing for the email.

“This email never should have gone out,” Ernst said in the statement. “Though I never saw it, it was sent out under my name and I take responsibility for it. Tonight, my prayers are with the family of Justice Ginsburg.”

Greenfield released a statement Saturday afternoon saying the vacancy shouldn’t be filled until after the election.

“The next Supreme Court Justice will have power over our access to health care, protections for pre-existing conditions, workers’ rights, and the rules of our democracy for the rest of their lives. The only way to truly respect our independent voices in Iowa is by waiting to fill this seat until the next U.S. Senate and President we’re about to vote for take office.”

Other Republican Senate leaders who led the fight against confirming Garland have made clear their intention to hold hearings on Trump’s nominee. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate judiciary committee, said he would move forward on considering a nominee to succeed Ginsburg.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., evoking arguments similar to Ernst, said in a statement Friday night that Trump’s nominee would receive a vote in the Senate.

“Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary,” McConnell said. “Once again, we will keep that promise.”

Senate Democrats are echoing Republicans in 2016, saying a nominee shouldn’t be considered until after the 2020 election.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted, repeating a statement issued by McConnell in 2016. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”