Vermont delegation fears for the future of the Supreme Court

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Leahy, Welch, and Sanders
Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rep. Peter Welch, and Sen. Bernie Sanders united in their concern about the impact of a second Trump nominee on the Supreme Court. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

As a new vacancy emerged on the United State Supreme Court, members of Vermont’s delegation expressed concern about the impact another appointee from the Trump administration will have on the future direction of the court.

Justice Anthony Kennedy announced Wednesday that after 30 years on the nation’s high court he would be leaving at the end of July.

The retirement will provide President Donald Trump the opportunity to name a second justice to the Supreme Court. Shortly after taking office in 2017, he nominated Justice Neil Gorsuch to fill a seat that had been vacant for almost a year as Senate Republicans blocked the nominee of then-President Barack Obama.

In the hours after the announcement, the White House and Senate Republican leadership said they would act swiftly to fill the vacancy.

Trump told reporters the administration would “begin immediately” on the process to replace Kennedy.

“Hopefully we will pick someone who is just as outstanding,” Trump said, according to a pool report.

In remarks on the floor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate “stands ready” to confirm Trump’s nominee. McConnell’s remarks were in marked contrast to his response to the last Supreme Court vacancy — created by the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in March 2016. On the day Scalia died McConnell said the Republican-controlled Senate had no intention of confirming any nominee chosen by Obama.

Democrats urged Republicans to move slowly and to vet the next nominee carefully.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a longtime Judiciary Committee member, said replacing Kennedy with an “extreme nominee outside of the mainstream” would undo Kennedy’s legacy. The Reagan nominee tended conservative, but was often a swing vote.

“I am concerned that anyone who passes President Trump’s litmus tests for judges will not be capable of rising above politics and providing a check against this administration’s many excesses,” Leahy said.

Leahy also said he has concerns that women’s abortion rights have “never been so at risk” since the Roe v. Wade decision nearly five decades ago. He also said he feels marriage equality could be “at risk” as well.

He referred to the “unprecedented” refusal by Senate Republicans even to consider federal appellate judge Merrick Garland, whom President Obama had nominated to fill the seat left vacant by Scalia’s death in 2016.

“I urge the president to show the courage that President Obama displayed and to use the coming months to find a consensus, mainstream nominee who can receive bipartisan support in the Senate,” Leahy said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also invoking Senate Republicans’ handing of Garland’s nomination in 2016, called on Republican leadership to wait to fill the seat until after the midterm elections. He echoed McConnell’s phrase that the public “should have a voice” in choosing the next justice.

“President Trump should not nominate, and the Senate should not confirm, a Supreme Court justice until the American people have had the opportunity to make their voices heard in November,” Sanders said in a statement.

Sanders expressed hope that some of his Republican colleagues who support abortion rights will oppose nominees who do not.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said in a statement that Kennedy’s departure could pave the way for a long-lasting shift in the leaning of the court.

“All of us who care about civil rights, civil liberties, women’s rights, getting dark money out of politics and more should make our voices heard in any way we can. Immediately,” Welch said.

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