Ohio Sen. Rob Portman in 2016: No Supreme Court confirmations until after election

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman in 2016: No Supreme Court confirmations until after election
U.S. Senator Rob Portman R-Ohio file. (Source: The Cincinnati Enquirer)

CINCINNATI (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) -When a Supreme Court justice died in 2016, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was clear: during a presidential election year, new appointments should wait until after an election to protect the court’s “integrity” and “credibility.”

Our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer stated that Portman, a Republican from Terrace Park in suburban Cincinnati, now faces a choice with the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate will hold a vote on replacing her.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, said Thursday any vote on new Supreme Court justice should wait until January. Portman issued a statement calling Ginsburg a “brilliant lawyer and a pioneer” but did not say where he stood on voting on a replacement.

In 2016, it was conservative Justice Antonin Scalia who died in February, nine months before the election. President Obama nominated appeals court judge Merrick Garland, but the Republican-controlled Senate refused to vote.

Brown at the time urged the Senate to consider Garland, saying “anything less undermines our democracy.”

In an interview with The Enquirer, Portman said at the time he found Garland “impressive” but said the Senate should wait until after an election. 

“During a very partisan year and a presidential election year, that both for the sake of the court and the integrity of the court and the legitimacy of the candidate, it’s better to have this occur after we’re passed this presidential election,” he said.

Portman elaborated on his views in an op-ed for The Enquirer, citing previous speeches by Joe Biden, now the Democratic nominee for president:

It would be better to allow this confirmation to take place in a less partisan atmosphere once the people have spoken by factoring in this important issue as part of our presidential vote....
For the reasons Biden described ... it has been common practice for the Senate to stop acting on lifetime appointments during the last year of a presidential term, and it has been 80 years since any president was permitted to fill a Supreme Court vacancy that arose in a presidential election year.
I have concluded that the best thing for the country is to trust the American people to weigh in and to have the confirmation process take place in a less partisan atmosphere. Awaiting the result of a democratic election, rather than having a nomination fight in this contentious election-year environment, will give the nominee more legitimacy and, as then-Senator Biden pointed out, better preserve the institutional credibility of the Senate and the court.

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