(CNSNews.com) - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Senate "stands ready to fulfill its constitutional role by offering advice and consent on President Trump's nominee" -- not yet named -- to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.
"We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy's successor this fall," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor.
Following McConnell to the podium, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called it "the most important Supreme Court vacancy for this country in at least a generation.”
"Nothing less than the fate of our health care system, reproductive rights for women, and countless other protections for middle-class Americans are at stake," Schumer warned.
Schumer said Republicans "should follow the rule they set in 2016, not to consider a Supreme Court justice in an election year."
But Republicans did not set that rule. As McConnell noted at the time, Republicans were following the path forged by Democrat Joe Biden.
In March 2016, after President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, McConnell said the Senate would adopt the "Biden rule" and decline to take up the nomination until after the presidential election.
"The Senate will continue to observe the Biden Rule so that the American people have a voice in this momentous decision," McConnell said at the time, prompting fury among Democrats.
Then-Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.), as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, gave a speech in June 1992 urging a confirmation delay if a vacancy were to occur on the Supreme Court before the November election.
There was no vacancy at the time, which Biden noted:
In my view, politics has played far too large a role in the Reagan-Bush nominations to date. One can only imagine that role becoming overarching if a choice were made this year, assuming a justice announced tomorrow that he or she was stepping down.
Should a justice resign this summer and the president move to name a successor, actions that will occur just days before the Democratic Presidential Convention and weeks before the Republican Convention meets, a process that is already in doubt in the minds of many will become distrusted by all. Senate consideration of a nominee under these circumstances is not fair to the president, to the nominee, or to the Senate itself.
Mr. President, where the nation should be treated to a consideration of constitutional philosophy, all it will get in such circumstances is a partisan bickering and political posturing from both parties and from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
As a result, it is my view that if a Supreme Court Justice resigns tomorrow, or within the next several weeks, or resigns at the end of the summer, President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not — and not — name a nominee until after the November election is completed.
The floor speeches of both McConnell and Schumer commenting on Kennedy's retirement are printed below:
First and foremost, I want to pause and express our gratitude for the extraordinary service that Justice Kennedy has offered our nation. He served on the federal bench for 43 years. In particular, we owe him a debt of thanks for his ardent defense of the First Amendment and the First Amendment's right to political speech.
As Justice Kennedy concludes his tenure on the court, we wish him, his wife Mary and their family every happiness in the years ahead.
The Senate stands ready to fulfill its constitutional role by offering advice and consent on President Trump's nominee to fill this vacancy. We will vote to cofirm Justice Kennedy's successor this fall.
As in the case of Justice Gorsuch, senators will have the opportunity to meet with President Trump's nominee, examine his or her qualifications, and debate the nomination. I have every confidence in Chairman Grassley's conduct in the process of the Judiciary Committee. It's imperative that the president's nominee be considered fairly and not subjected to personal attacks.
Thus far, President Trump's judicial nominations have reflected a keen understanding of the vital roles that justices play in our constitutional order. Justices must apply the law fairly and apply it evenhandedly.
Judicial decisions must not flow from judge's personal philosophies or preferences but from the words and actual meaning of the law. This bedrock principle has clearly defined the president's excellent choices to date. So we'll look forward to yet another outstanding selection, but today the Senate and the nation thank Justice Kennedy for his years of service on the bench and his many years of contribution to jurisprudence and to our nation.
We recently received news that Justice Anthony Kennedy will be retiring, leaving a vacancy on the nation's highest court.
This is the most important Supreme Court vacancy for this country in at least a generation. Nothing less than the fate of our health care system, reproductive rights for women, and countless other protections for middle-class Americans are at stake.
Will Republicans and President Trump nominate and vote for someone who will preserve protections for people with pre-existing conditions, or will they support a justice who will put health insurance companies over patients or put the federal government between a woman and her doctor?
The Senate should reject on a bipartisan basis any justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade or undermine key health care protections. The Senate should reject anyone who will instinctively side with powerful special interests over the interests of average Americans. Our Republican colleagues in the Senate should follow the rule they set in 2016, not to consider a Supreme Court justice in an election year.
Senator McConnell would tell anyone who listened that the Senate had the right to advise and consent, and that was every bit as important as the president's right to nominate. Millions of people are just months away from determining the senators who should vote to confirm or reject the president's nominee, and their voices deserve to be heard now, as Leader McConnell thought they should deserve to be heard then.
Anything but that would be the absolute height of hypocrisy. People from all across America should realize that their rights and opportunities are threatened.
Americans should make their voices heard loudly, clearly and consistently. Americans should make it clear that they will not tolerate a nominee chosen from President Trump's pre-ordained list, selected by powerful special interests who will reverse the progress we've made over the decades. I yield the floor.