Democratic US presidential nominee Joe Biden delivers remarks regarding the supreme court at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the US, September 20 2020. Picture: REUTERS/MARK MAKELA
Democratic US presidential nominee Joe Biden delivers remarks regarding the supreme court at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the US, September 20 2020. Picture: REUTERS/MARK MAKELA

Philadelphia — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden blasted Republican efforts to speed through a replacement for the late supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, warning that such a process would “inflict irreversible damage” on the country.

“There’s so much at stake,” Biden said on Sunday in a speech at the constitution Center in Philadelphia. “The right to health care, clean air, clean water, the environment, equal pay for equal work, the rights of voters, immigrants, women, workers. And right now, our country faces a choice: a choice about whether we will come back from the brink.”

Biden, casting the moment in dark terms, pleaded with Republican senators not to go along with President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plans to rush through a new justice, noting that voting has already started in many states.

“Cool the flames that have been engulfing our country,” he said in an appeal to Republican senators. “We can’t keep rewriting history, scrambling norms, and ignoring our cherished system of checks and balances.”

“The last thing we need is to add a constitutional crisis that plunges us deeper into the abyss,” he warned.

Race reshaped

Ginsburg’s death of cancer at age 87 on Friday has reshaped the presidential race with just 44 days until the election. Until now, Biden has primarily focused on the president’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, seeking to tie the health and economic crises to the incumbent. But now Trump has the opportunity to focus on pushing the high court far to the right by replacing a liberal justice, guaranteeing a conservative majority for a generation.

Trump said on Saturday he would nominate his pick, almost certainly a woman, this week. The front-runners appear to be appellate court judges Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa.

But on Sunday, Biden said if he’s elected before the new justice is confirmed, Trump’s nominee should be withdrawn.

“To jam this nomination through the Senate is just an exercise in raw political power,” he said. “I don’t believe the people of this nation will stand for it.”

Most Americans agree, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday. The survey, conducted between September 19-20, found 62% of adults said the vacancy should be filled by the winner of November’s election, while 23% disagreed.

The former US vice-president also lambasted Senate Republicans, arguing they were being hypocritical for blocking former President Barack Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland in the final year of his term — but much earlier in the year — before changing course to signal they would vote on Trump’s nominee weeks before the election.

Arguments soon

The composition of the court is particularly pressing for Democrats because the supreme court will hear oral arguments in a case seeking to gut Obamacare a week after Election Day as the coronavirus pandemic still grips the country.

In the hours after Ginsburg’s death, Biden’s campaign signalled it would focus on the need to protect the health law and coverage for pre-existing conditions. With Democrats unable to delay the confirmation process in the Senate, Biden’s advisers wanted to highlight the issues they see as most at risk if Republicans succeed in pushing the court even further to the right.

Oral arguments for the Obamacare case, California vs Texas, are scheduled for November 10. The case, led by Texas and supported by the Trump administration, challenges the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and could eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions, a key element of Obamacare.

Democrats successfully gained a majority in the House of Representatives in 2018 by running on protecting the health-care law, and the Biden campaign believes pushing that issue to the forefront will yield similar success.

A campaign official said Biden and Harris have spoken with Democratic legislators to stress the importance of health care in the nomination fight. The campaign will co-ordinate with Congressional leadership to keep the focus on maintaining health coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

“In the middle of the worst global health crisis in living memory, Donald Trump is at the supreme court trying to strip health coverage away from tens of millions of families and to strip away the peace of mind from more than 100-million people with pre-existing conditions,” Biden said. “If he succeeds, insurers could once again discriminate or drop coverage completely for people living with pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes and cancer.”

Biden also criticised Trump for putting out a list of potential court nominees and slammed Republicans for calling on him to do the same. As he did ahead of his first election, Trump released a list of people earlier this month that he would select from if a seat opened up on the supreme court. Of more than three dozen people on the list, including three current Republican senators, a shortlist of less than a handful quickly emerged.

Biden said the list revealed Trump and his allies see the process as a “game”.

Biden said naming potential picks could influence their decision-making as judges, subject them to unrelenting political attacks, and further politicise the nominating process. He has only gone so far as to promise to nominate a black woman to the supreme court.

“There’s a reason no presidential candidate other than Donald Trump has ever done such a thing,” he said.


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