A looming political firestorm has landed in Philadelphia.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, speaking Sunday afternoon in Old City, appealed to moderate U.S. Senate Republicans, asking them to delay a nomination vote on the successor to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Choosing her replacement prior to the election in November would cause a “constitutional crisis,” the former vice president said.
“If we go down this path, I predict it will cause irreversible damage,” Biden said. “The infection this president has unleashed on our democracy can be fatal.”
Biden spoke at the National Constitution Center, which honored Ginsburg with the Liberty Medal on Thursday, a day before she succumbed to pancreatic cancer at age 87.
Ginsberg did not appear at the pre-taped ceremony, but she penned a letter saying it was a “huge honor” to receive the award.
“It was my good fortune to have the opportunity to participate in the long effort to place equal citizenship stature for women,” Ginsburg wrote.
She drew praise from all corners of the political sphere after her death; however, the battle over when to fill her seat will likely be bitter and could have an influence on the result of the upcoming presidential election.
President Donald Trump on Saturday evening told reporters that he believes he will make his nomination this week, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Trump’s choice will be brought to a vote.
Right before Ginsberg died, according to her granddaughter, she said: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
“As a nation, we should heed her final call to us,” Biden said Sunday. “There’s so much at stake.”
He said the future of the Affordable Care Act and the rights of immigrants, workers and other groups hang in the balance.
The situation mirrors in some ways what happened four years ago, when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died months before the election. McConnell and GOP leaders stymied an effort by President Barack Obama to replace him with Merrick Garland.
Neil Gorsich was ultimately chosen to replace Scalia after Trump’s inauguration.
Ginsburg’s death comes even closer to Election Day, and Biden argued that Republicans established a new standard.
“You can’t unring the bell,” he said. “The voters of this country should be heard.”
Some voters, Biden noted, have already cast their ballots, either by mail or through early voting.
McConnell, in a statement, said no senate has ever backed an opposing-party president’s nominee in an election year.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, supported his party’s decision to not hold a vote on Garland in 2016. He has not indicated which way he will go this time around.
“While I usually disagreed with (Ginsberg’s) legal and political views, she proved time and again that it is possible to disagree with someone without being disagreeable,” he said in a statement Saturday.
Toomey’s office did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans called out Toomey and urged senators to “respect both democracy and her final wish.”
Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey said lawmakers should work under the precedent the GOP leadership set in 2016 and wait to select Ginsburg’s replacement.
Trump has said that he has a shortlist of about 45 people and hinted that he would probably nominate a woman to the court.
Biden indicated he would not release a list of potential names, though he said he plans to choose the first African-American female justice if he wins in November.
Ginsberg was the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, and she held the position for more than 27 years. In the latter part of her tenure, she gained a following among younger progressives.
Leaders in Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia region praised her over the weekend.
“Justice Ginsburg was a truly remarkable figure in American history, as both a tireless defender of the Constitution, and as a pioneer for gender equality,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement. “Her contributions to our country cannot be overstated.”
“Our nation is more equitable and just because of the trailblazing work of Justice Ginsburg,” Mayor Jim Kenney said on Twitter. “She fought tirelessly until the end because she knew what was at stake. Her passing is a call for all of us to keep fighting.”
Biden said he spoke to Ginsberg’s daughter and granddaughter last night, and they told him she displayed character and courage right up until the end.
“Justice Ginsburg achieved a standing few justices have or ever will,” he said. “She became a presence in the lives of so many Americans and part of our culture.”