Illinois’ senior U.S. Senator on Saturday called late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg “a valiant lady” and “an icon of civil rights and human rights” — while also urging Republicans to wait until after the election to replace her.
The death of the 87-year-old justice was announced late Friday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that President Donald Trump’s nominee will get a vote on the floor of the Senate, though he didn’t say whether that would happen before the Nov. 3 election.
On Saturday morning, Trump called for the Senate to act “without delay” to replace the liberal justice on the nation’s highest court. But Durbin said that task should be left to the next president instead of being rushed through the Senate just weeks before Election Day.
“This is not just a political squabble on Capitol Hill — this is the future of the Supreme Court,” Durbin told WBEZ Saturday morning.
In calling for the delay, Durbin cited the precedent set in 2016 by McConnell, who, along with other Senate Republicans, stonewalled Democratic President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee for the better part of a year because McConnell said such a consequential decision shouldn’t be made during an election year.
“You can’t play this on a situational basis where McConnell comes up with a rule and enforces it in one circumstance, and then when it’s not to his benefit, ignores it,” Durbin said. “We’re going to have to play by a precedent here.”
Durbin sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must vote to confirm the president’s Supreme Court nominees. He said key decisions are at stake, including the future of the Affordable Care Act and other issues “that can change the lives of ordinary Americans.”
If Republicans do try and force a nomination vote this close to an election, they face a potential backlash from voters that could jeapordize their hold on the upper chamber.
Asked which Republican senators Democrats hope to flip, Durbin said he was “afraid to jinx it by announcing publicly,” but called those GOP counterparts “a very limited number… who would consider doing the right thing.”
Durbin said he and his colleagues had been concerned about Ginsburg’s condition.
“For weeks, I have been saying to people, if you believe in prayer, say a prayer for Ruth Bader Ginsburg — she’s fighting this amazing battle to live,” Durbin said. “It was still just a stunning announcement yesterday that she had finally passed and it hit the text wave, if you will, all over Capitol Hill in an instant.”
He said he and his colleagues will discuss their plan going forward in a conference call Saturday afternoon.
He said the focus will be explaining to the American people “that this is more than just a political issue — it’s something that touches their lives.” He encouraged voters to get registered and participate in this year’s “critical, historic election.”
Trump’s pick to replace Ginsburg on the bench could significantly alter the high court’s leaning. Several national news outlets are reporting the president is seriously considering Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who sits on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. She has been serving in that post since late 2017, after Trump nominated her to the seat.
Some of Illinois’ top Democrats also offered their condolences for Ginsburg, who in recent years has become somewhat of a pop culture icon of the left, affectionately dubbed “the Notorious RBG.”
Illinois U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth said in a statement: “Not only did our nation lose a brilliant jurist, we lost a hero — a 5’1” giant who gave a voice to girls and women everywhere and moved the needle forward in our long fight toward justice and equality for all.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a career lawyer and former federal prosecutor, tweeted Friday night that she was “devastated” by Ginsburg’s death.
“She represented the finest among lawyers in our country,” Lightfoot wrote. “A giant in her advocacy for women’s rights, civil rights and respect for the rule of law. We must honor her legacy and all her contributions to American jurisprudence. Rest in power, RBG.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker called the late justice “an icon and inspiration.”
“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was first a trailblazer and then a bulwark for equality, whether you are a woman, gay, a person of color or disabled,” Pritzker wrote in an emailed statement. “Just as importantly, she was a shining role model for girls everywhere — a testament to working hard and fighting for what’s right. Her legacy will endure, but only if we fight as hard as she did to protect it.”
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.