Weekly Wonder: Following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Trump’s Supreme Court pick may be part of the fastest confirmation process since 2005

By John Terhune and Devyani Chhetri 
BU News Service 

BOSTON — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing on Sept. 18 unleashed a political tug of war in Washington. The usual question about who could be the one to fill Ginsburg’s seat has now shifted to when

After the news of her death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, announced that President Trump’s nominee would receive a vote on the Senate floor. A few days later, the president tweeted that he would nominate Ginsburg’s successor on Sept. 26, just eight days after her passing. 

The leading pick to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court would be the fastest candidate confirmed since John Roberts’ confirmation in 2005, which took only 26 days, according to the data from the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Election Day is less than 40 days away, and the race to fill the vacancy has become a point of contention in the Senate.

In 2016, nine months before the general elections, Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden passing left it to former President Barack Obama’s administration to pick his replacement. At the time, Senate Republicans led by McConnell blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination by refusing a senate hearing.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell had said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” 

As a result of the ensuing power struggle, the seat remained vacant for 419 days until Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in 2017; it was the most extended vacancy in the court’s history.

Since 1937, the process of filling a seat averaged 117 days, as per data provided by the U.S. Senate. 

Data from the past several decades shows that Senate opposition to Supreme Court nominees has increased. In 1991 and 2018, 48 senators voted against the confirmation of Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, following allegations of sexual assault

Now, with the presidential election fast approaching, Trump’s nominee succession would mean that Republican presidents have appointed 16 of the last 20 justices. A growing concern is whether the nomination to the Supreme Court could be a big polling issue among voters. 

BU News Service looked at Google Trends search terms to gauge interest in the U.S. Supreme Court.

At 6 p.m., Sept. 18, the search score for “Ruth Bader Ginsburg ” was <1, which means that there was insufficient search data to establish a composite score. But by 7 p.m., that score had spiked to a 100, the maximum number of searches in the given period.

The search term “U.S Supreme Court” has had four significant spikes in the past five years.

The week following Scalia’s death in 2016, racked up a score of 74. The next two instances came within four months of each other in 2018. June 24 saw a score of 48 and Sept. 30 a 44, coinciding with the nomination and hearing of Justice Kavanaugh.

Relatively speaking, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death marks the highest spike in search terms.

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