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Montana Senate Candidates Split On How To Fill Supreme Court Seat

Former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The candidates in Montana’s hotly contested Senate race are divided over how to handle the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In a written statement, Republican Sen. Steve Daines said the Senate should move forward with confirming President Donald Trump’s nominee, expected to be announced at week’s end.

Democratic challenger and current Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement the Senate should wait until after the January inauguration to fill Ginsburg’s seat. He said lawmakers should follow the precedent set in 2016 when Republicans blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee nearly nine months before the election.

At that time, Daines opposed a hearing for Obama’s nominee until the American people “elect a new President and have their voices heard.”

University of Montana political scientist Sara Rinfret says there aren’t comparative statements from Bullock, who wasn’t running for national office at the time. She expects the stakes to be higher in Montana now than in 2016, when neither of the state’s senators were up for reelection.

“I think it’s just another way to politicize and be very divisive, even more so than we have been,” Rinfret said.

The New York Times is reporting that a poll it conducted with Siena College, which included Green Party candidates that won’t be on the Montana ballot, shows Daines and Bullock nearly tied in what has become one of most closely watched Senate races in the U.S.

Rinfret says the Supreme Court vacancy will likely become a major campaign talking point, along with the novel coronavirus pandemic and evergreen issues like health care and public lands.

“I would say the Supreme Court will be one of the top five issues discussed until November,” Rinfret said.

Rinfret says the Supreme Court has grown increasingly partisan in recent years as it’s filled a power vacuum left by an often deadlocked Congress.

As a presidential candidate last year, Bullock told the Washington Post he’d be open to discuss ways to depoliticize the court, including by expanding it as a handful of Democrats have suggested if Republicans successfully replace Ginsburg. A campaign spokesperson wouldn’t comment on Bullock’s current position on court packing.

Daines’ office didn’t return a request for comment about potential changes to the court’s structure.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said in a statement the Supreme Court vacancy should be filled by the next president and Senate.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

Kevin is a UM Journalism graduate student and reporter for MTPR.
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