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More divided?  The opening of the court could bring the Democrats closer

Democrats in Congress have repeatedly fractured on President Joe Biden’s agenda, stalling legislation and creating an atmosphere of mistrust that has made it increasingly difficult for progressives and centrists to work together.

But one area where the party hasn’t cracked even an inch is in Biden’s court appointments.

This rock-solid unity helped Biden appoint the most justices in the first year of a presidency since John F. Kennedy. The achievement gives Democrats hope that the coming fight for the Supreme Court seat will allow them to go on the political offensive and overcome an ugly legislature that has depressed their base.

But unity is far from assured as Republicans prepare to oppose what they predict will be a “radical” choice by Biden to replace incumbent Justice Stephen Breyer.

As always, two Democratic senators will be the center of attention: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

While their opposition to changing Senate rules stalled the party’s signature vote legislation this month, they’ve been reliable votes on Biden’s nominees in court. Indeed, in the 44 roll call votes held so far on Biden’s judicial picks, there has yet to be a single Democratic defection.

This streak bodes well for the future 50-50 Senate candidate, where Vice President Kamala Harris would sever all ties. If Democrats are able to stick together, Republicans wouldn’t have the power to prevent Biden’s pick from being confirmed. Supreme Court candidates can no longer filibuster, thanks to a rule change implemented by GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, making party unity the path to certain victory.

On this particular vote, analysts suspect Democrats will be more likely to stay united than Republicans.

“I would say the progressive wing probably has less to worry about than McConnell & Company,” said Russell Wheeler, a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution who follows the judicial nomination process closely. “But we never know.”

Still, news of Breyer’s impending retirement — he plans to leave at the end of the court’s term — prompted cautious, noncommittal responses from Sinema and Manchin.

Sinema tweeted that she would consider Biden’s choice on three criteria: “whether the nominee is professionally qualified, believes in the role of an independent judiciary, and can be trusted to faithfully interpret and uphold the rule of law. “

Manchin told a local radio show, “Talkline,” that he would assess whether the contestant was willing to work with other judges and that “a lot will depend on the character of the person.” Asked if he could support someone who was more liberal than him, Manchin replied that “as far as philosophical beliefs go, no, that won’t stop me from supporting someone”.

Outwardly, progressive groups don’t seem worried about Manchin’s or Sinema’s prospects against Biden’s pick. The president promised to appoint a black woman – it would be a first for the court – and a short list of top candidates quickly emerged.

“Frankly, I’m very confident that President Biden’s nominee will be confirmed because, as he did with the lower court nominees, he’s going to come up with someone with clean credentials and eminently qualified,” said Daniel Goldberg, legal director of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group that tracks and weighs in on judicial candidates.

During Donald Trump’s presidency, Republicans worked with assembly-line precision to install more than 230 justices on the court, including three Supreme Court justices. More infuriating for Democrats, Republicans refused to consider President Barack Obama’s choice in early 2016 of Merrick Garland, then a federal court judge and now Biden’s attorney general, to serve on the Supreme Court following the judge’s death. Antonin Scalia. McConnell said voters, with a White House election coming up this fall, should weigh in on which president they trust to fill the vacancy. Yet four years later, Republicans voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the High Court days before the 2020 presidential election.

The GOP’s actions gave the court a solid 6-3 conservative majority, an ideological tilt that will remain in place even after Breyer’s replacement.

Democrats responded with an added sense of urgency for the justices now that they have a majority in the Senate. Obama, who inherited a budget crisis, had only 12 confirmed justices his first year. Trump had 22. Biden had 42.

The spotlight as Biden plans to replace Breyer won’t just be on swing Democratic votes. Biden has also been successful in garnering GOP support for several of his candidates.

Among the Republicans, the senses. Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham voted for a significant majority of Biden’s judicial nominees and will be closely watched throughout the process.

But Collins said she wanted enough time for questions, review and consideration. Democrats have talked about moving as quickly as possible, using Barrett’s quick confirmation as a model.

If the confirmation vote follows recent history, the margin of victory will be slim. Of Trump’s three nominations, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by a 54-45 vote, Kavanaugh was confirmed by a 50-48 vote, and Barrett was confirmed, 52-48.

Democrats are eager for Biden to make his selection so they can get started. Biden said he would nominate a candidate by the end of February.

“Our process is going to be rigorous,” Biden said Thursday. “I will select a candidate worthy of Justice Breyer’s legacy of excellence and decency.”

After stumbling over the president’s domestic agenda, including the now-delayed $2 trillion social and environmental bill, some Democratic strategists believe the Supreme Court battle could help galvanize party voters ahead of a season election where Republicans are increasingly confident about their prospects.

“I think it will be a big plus with African American voters, women and young voters, there’s no doubt about that,” said Bill Carrick, a California-based Democratic political consultant. “Historically, Democrats haven’t focused as much on the court as Republicans, but in this circumstance, it’s very different.”

Carrick said it was different this time because people saw how Republicans under Trump went to such lengths to secure a conservative majority. Additionally, they now see a threat of overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade providing for the right to abortion. He said California is hosting several competitive house races this year where he thinks abortion rights will play a role.

“Sometimes it’s not a relevant issue,” Carrick said of abortion. “But I think in this case it will be.”

The Supreme Court signaled last month in a Mississippi case that it could strike down abortion rights and possibly overturn Roe v. Wade. A decision is expected later this year.


The Independent Gt

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