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Cornell College professor discusses what impact a Supreme Court nomination could have on November election

Published: Sep. 22, 2020 at 10:46 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The decisions from Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst, both Republicans, to support moving ahead with the Supreme Court nomination process following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have political pundits and voters conjecturing what their choices could mean for the November general election and future elections.

Megan Goldberg, an assistant professor of American politics at Cornell College, said for Grassley, it shouldn’t affect his potential re-election bid in 2022 because the topic won’t still be at the top of voters' minds by then.

But she said for Joni Ernst, who faces Democrat Theresa Greenfield on the ballot in six weeks, it’s a different scenario. The Cook Political Report currently considers the race a toss-up, describing that either candidate has a good shot at winning. The latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, released Saturday, shows Greenfield with a 45%-to-42% lead over Ernst, with a margin of error of +/- 3.8%.

With the race being so close and considering that a lot of Iowans are expected to vote by mail before Election Day, Goldberg said the Supreme Court pick will probably still be a salient topic for them. But, she said it’s hard to see it reversing votes for anyone who’s already decided for whom they’re voting.

Goldberg said the Greenfield campaign can use this to sway undecided voters, however, and to encourage Democrats who hadn’t planned on voting to actually vote — if the campaign is able to mobilize them. She said this could mean Greenfield’s campaign would try to persuade voters of why they should want more liberal justices on the court.

“Rather than starting to get into the math of how many justices there are and the jurisdictions of the courts, focusing on, this means potentially a reversal of Roe v. Wade. This means potentially an overturning of Obamacare in its entirety,” Goldberg said. “And when you can sort of give these concrete examples, it’s a lot easier for voters to think about its relation to their own lives compared to how far left or right are we moving the Supreme Court because that’s an abstract concept that most people don’t devote a ton of time thinking about.”

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he would announce his Supreme Court nominee Saturday evening.

It is possible for the Senate to confirm that person by Election Day. The length between nomination and the final Senate vote for John Paul Stevens in 1975 was just 19 days. But for the eight current Supreme Court justices, the average time for that process has been about 78 days, just over two-and-a-half months.

If that’s the case, a final Senate vote would fall between Election Day and the inauguration in January.

Goldberg said that’s potentially where voters could have an impact. If Joe Biden wins the election and Democrats take back the majority in the Senate, it would put President Trump and the current Senate Republican majority in a lame-duck situation.

“In hopes that that would shift the optics, that they might be less willing to put forward a nominee when they know that their power is temporary. On the other hand, if you know your power is temporary, you probably want to do as much as you can, right?” Goldberg said.

Goldberg said the other part of this strategy of mobilizing voters is that the American people don’t directly nominee Supreme Court justices, so voting is really the only strategy the public has to have an indirect say in this process.

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