U.S. President Donald Trump paid his respects to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court here on Thursday morning amid boos from mourners as a partisan battle over her replacement brews.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump, both wearing masks, observed a moment of silence at the top of the steps of the court building, looking down at Ginsburg’s coffin draped in the American flag and surrounded by bouquets of white flowers.
The brief stay was booed by a nearby crowd waiting in line to pay tribute to the liberal icon, added loud chants of “vote him out” and “honor her wish.”
Speaking to reporters at the White House before leaving for an event in Charlotte, North Carolina on his health care proposals on Thursday afternoon, Trump called the boos “just a political chant.”
“We could hardly hear it from where we were. Somebody said there was some chanting. But they were right next to the media. But we really could hardly hear too much. We heard a sound, but it wasn’t very strong,” he said.
A renowned champion of women’s rights, Ginsburg died last week at the age of 87 due to complications related to metastatic pancreas cancer. She was appointed to the Supreme Court by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993, becoming the second woman appointed to the highest court in the United States.
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” Ginsburg reportedly dictated to her granddaughter Clara Spera a few days before her death.
Despite this, Trump has said he will announce a pick to fill Ginsburg’s seat on Saturday afternoon. On Thursday, he declined to talk about the candidates and only said that he thinks “it’s going to be a very monumental — a very good choice.”
Five women are on his shortlist. Judges Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa, both conservatives that the Senate confirmed in bipartisan votes, are said to be top contenders.
Since mid-2016, when Trump was the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, he and Ginsburg had traded barbs. Recently, the president suggested that it was Democratic politicians who wrote her dying wish, a claim that critics have called baseless.
Trump successfully appointed two conservatives on the Supreme Court’s nine-justice bench, Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, tilting the institution to the right with 5-4 majority. Trump’s third nominee would cement a 6-3 conservative advantage.
U.S. Supreme Court justices, who have life tenure and can serve until they die, resign, retire, or are impeached and removed from office, and play an enormous role in shaping the country’s legislation and policies on issues such as abortion, LGBT rights, gun rights, climate change, and presidential powers.
Republicans, who have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, appear to have enough votes to confirm Trump’s next Supreme Court nominee. Only two Republican senators have said they would not support taking up a Supreme Court nominee prior to the November election.
Democrats oppose moving forward with a vote on Ginsburg’s replacement before Election Day, which is only a number of weeks away, pointing to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to block former president Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, because it was an election year, which all but ensures a a fierce confirmation battle on Capitol Hill.
McConnell and Senate Republicans have argued that this time is different because the Senate and the White House are held by the same party.
“The Senate has never-NEVER-confirmed a Supreme Court nominee this close to the election,” Senate Minority Leader and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer tweeted on Thursday. “This is nothing more than a power grab — and we are fighting it.”
The role of the Supreme Court is likely to be more important this year, as Trump, who’s trailing 2020 Democratic presidential nominee and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in national and swing states polls, has repeatedly tried to cast doubt on the election while refusing to commit to a peaceful transition of power should he lose.
“We want to make sure the election is honest and I’m not sure that it can be. I don’t know that it can be with this whole situation, unsolicited ballots,” Trump told reporters on Thursday afternoon, referring to mail-in ballots, which many parts of the country have expanded so as to allow people to vote safely during the pandemic.
For months, the president has claimed that the expansion of mail-in ballots would lead to massive voter fraud, while U.S. election pundits have argued there is no evidence of meaningful fraud in mail voting.
Christopher Wray, director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, told a Senate hearing on Thursday that they have “not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.”
Trump said Wednesday that he believes the Supreme Court would have to weigh in on the election. “I think this will end up in the Supreme Court,” he said during a White House event. “And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a disputed recount of votes in Florida with a 5-4 ruling, effectively handing that year’s presidential election to the Republican presidential candidate and then-governor of Texas George W. Bush, who won 271 electoral votes, one more than a majority. However, Bush lost the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore.
Any election disputes would have to go through lower courts and may not even reach the high court, according to U.S. election and legal experts.