Toomey backs vote on Trump's Supreme Court nominee, despite feeling the opposite in 2016 | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Toomey backs vote on Trump's Supreme Court nominee, despite feeling the opposite in 2016

After the death of U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh) issued a statement today saying that he will vote on the President Donald Trump's nomination for the court. This vow to vote comes despite the fact that Toomey refused to vote in 2016 when President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

There is debate from all ends of the political spectrum on whether or not the U.S. Senate should vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee during an election year. This last arose when, in March 2016 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Obama nominated Garland. The Republican-controlled Senate, including Toomey, refused to vote on the confirmation, claiming that the court seat should be filled by the next president, and so the voters should decide since there was general election for a new president in November 2016. This continued through the end of Obama term in January 2017, following Trump's victory in 2016.

However this year, most of Republican Senators, including Toomey, have announced that they are prepared to vote on Trump's yet-to-be-announced nominee, even thought the some voting for this year's general election has already begun (while Election Day is Tue., Nov. 3, early voting and mail-in voting has already begun in some states).

"While there is a presidential election this year, the White House and the Senate are currently both controlled by the same party. The Senate’s historical practice has been to fill Supreme Court vacancies in these circumstances," said Toomey in a statement, noting that in 2016, the presidency and senate were controlled by opposing parties.

"When divided government creates tension between the two organs responsible for filling a position on the Supreme Court, it is completely justifiable to leave open a vacancy until the voters have had a chance to speak," he added. "Since the voters resolved the tension between the White House and the Senate, there is no reason to delay filling this vacancy."

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton) has said the seat should not be filled until after the election, "consistent with the precedent set by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2016," who like Toomey, was against holding a vote on Garland's nomination.

While Toomey argued that voters should have a say in the Supreme Court nominee in 2016, seven months away from the election, he now believes that voters should only have a say if the Senate and White House are split. In 2016, Toomey wrote an op-ed for PennLive, explaining his decision not to vote on Garland. 

"With lifetime tenure, the next justice will determine the Court's balance for a generation," wrote Toomey in the op-ed. "In that light, I believe it is sensible to allow the American people to participate in the choice of Justice Scalia's successor less than seven months from now."

Only two Republican senators, Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), have said they would oppose voting on confirmation so close to the election. There are 53 Republican Senators currently in the 100-seat Senate, and a simple majority vote is all that is needed to confirm a Supreme Court Justice, after McConnell changed Senate rules in 2017. If confirmed, the theoretical Trump nominee would be the Supreme Court confirmation closest to election day in U.S. history. 

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