DES MOINES — Joni Ernst called it a hypothetical, but did not rule out the potential for a Republican-controlled U.S. Senate to once again block a Democratic president’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee at any point in 2024.
Ernst, a Republican U.S. Senator from Iowa, fielded a question about potential future Supreme Court vacancies Tuesday during a conference call with Iowa reporters.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said earlier this week on a conservative radio program that if Republicans regain a majority in the 2022 elections, he would block any Supreme Court nominees put forth by Democratic President Joe Biden in 2024, a presidential election year.
Speculation has swirled over whether liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer may retire soon.
“If McConnell is the majority leader and we have a different party president, then I’m sure you can see a situation similar to several years ago,” Ernst said Tuesday. “But again, it’s a hypothetical right now.”
McConnell in recent years has played election-year Supreme Court nominations both ways.
In 2016, as Senate Majority leader with a GOP majority, McConnell blocked Democratic President Barack Obama’s nomination for a Supreme Court vacancy after the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia 270 days before the election.
In 2020, Majority Leader McConnell moved quickly on to confirm Republican President Donald Trump’s nomination of conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett after the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just 47 days before the election.
McConnell said this week that if Republicans regain the majority in 2022, he would employ his 2016 strategy and block any Biden nomination to the high court in 2024.
“I think it’s highly unlikely,” McConnell told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “In fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election. What was different in 2020 was we were of the same party as the president.”
Election-year Supreme Court nominations in which the president and U.S. Senate majority are opposite parties are rare. Before Obama’s 2016 nomination, the earliest was in 1956. In that case, a Democratic Senate approved the nomination of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower after the election.
Before that, the earliest such election-year nomination under split presidential and Senate control was in 1888.
“I don’t know of any vacancies that will be occurring, and if something does occur, then we will see. There’s already precedent out there,” Ernst said.