With a seat slated to open on the U.S. Supreme Court, at least one of West Virginia’s U.S. Senators signaled interest in the idea of confirming a new justice before the 2018 midterm elections.
Through her spokeswoman, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she “looks forward to moving forward with the process this fall” of replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced plans to retire on Wednesday.
Jon Kott, a spokesman for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is up for re-election in November, declined to give a definitive answer.
“Right now he looks forward to meeting with and evaluating the nominee,” Kott said of Manchin.
Both Manchin and Capito voted to confirm President Donald Trump’s first appointee to the high court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, in April 2017.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced plans to schedule a confirmation vote for the fall during a floor session Wednesday after news of Kennedy’s retirement plans broke.
Senate rules require 51 votes to confirm a Supreme Court justice. Republicans currently wield a 51-49 majority in the chamber, leaving virtually no room for error or intra-GOP dissent if the Democrats stay united on a vote.
Capito’s statement marks a pivot from her position in the final year of President Barack Obama’s tenure. When Obama nominated U.S. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland to fill the late-Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat, which Gorsuch currently holds, she said citizens should be able to influence the chamber’s ability to advise and consent on the president’s nominations.
“Before a Supreme Court justice is confirmed to a lifetime position on the bench, West Virginians and the American people should have the ability to weigh in at the ballot box this November,” Capito said in a March 2016 statement to this newspaper.
She did not answer follow-up questions at the time to elaborate on the position, though a spokeswoman said Capito's statement wasn't reported in full, saying Capito also said at the time that "My position does not change with the naming of a nominee today. Anyone confirmed to the Supreme Court will play a key role in decisions on monumental issues ranging from EPA regulations that affect West Virginia’s energy sector, to immigration and Second Amendment rights. With just a few months until the election, West Virginians should have an opportunity to express their views and elect a new president who will select the Supreme Court justice.”
Her spokeswoman also issued the following statement.
"In 2016, Senator Capito said that voters should have the opportunity to elect a new president in that year’s election who would pick the new Supreme Court justice," she said. "2018 is not a presidential election year and the majority leader has said the Senate will consider President Trump’s nominee this fall. This is not at all an apples to apples comparison."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged McConnell to postpone the confirmation process until after the elections Wednesday.
Capito issued a full statement Wednesday.
“President Trump now has an opportunity to put forward a new, well-qualified nominee to serve in his place. He chose an exceptional candidate in Neil Gorsuch, and I was proud to support Justice Gorsuch’s nomination,” Capito said. “I look forward to working with the president and my colleagues through the confirmation process to ensure our next Supreme Court justice will also uphold the rule of law fairly, defend the Constitution with integrity, and represent the principles and conservative values our nation was built on.”
Manchin offered a statement as well.
“I look forward to meeting with and evaluating the qualifications of whoever President Trump nominates to become a justice on the Supreme Court,” he said.
“Senators have a responsibility to do our jobs as elected officials and this includes our Constitutional obligation to advise and consent on a nominee to fill this Supreme Court vacancy.”