Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
(R-Ky.) said Monday that it is "highly unlikely" that he would allow President Joe Biden
to fill a Supreme Court
vacancy in 2024 if Republicans
regain control of the Senate — and possibly sooner.
“I think it’s highly unlikely — in fact, I don’t think either party, if it wasn’t the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election
,” McConnell said in an interview
with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt
As Senate majority leader in 2016, McConnell blocked President Barack Obama
from appointing a successor to former Justice Antonin Scalia, who died unexpectedly in February of that year. Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland
, who is now serving as Biden's attorney general, didn't even get a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, let alone a vote.
However, in late 2020, shortly before the November presidential election, Republicans rushed to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, explaining that the rule on election-year high court vacancies established by Republicans in 2016 did not apply in 2020 because one party now controlled both the White House
and the Senate.
The decision to keep a Supreme Court seat open for eight months was described by McConnell as "the single most consequential thing I've done in my time as majority leader in the Senate." In the end, Republicans did it because they could, not because of any fabricated "precedent." The balance of the court now tilts 6-3 to the conservatives
, and will likely do so for decades.
Some progressive groups and activists have been urging Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
, 82, to retire this year so that Democrats
can appoint his successor while they control both the Senate and the White House. However, the liberal justice has given no indication of his future on the court, and Democratic
senators have been unwilling, at least publicly, to urge him to resign.
According to McConnell's interview with Hewitt, the window for Democrats to potentially fill a Supreme Court vacancy may be even narrower than they think. If Republicans retake control of the Senate next year, which is considered a possibility, they could once again deny a Democratic president the opportunity to fill a high court seat, possibly as early as 2023.
“Again, if you were back as Senate Republican Leader, and I hope you are, and a Democrat retires at the end of 2023, and there are 18 months, that would be the Anthony Kennedy precedent,” Hewitt asked McConnell.
“Well, we'll have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell said.