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Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death sets up tense political fight over replacement

Ginsburg's death jolts 2020 election
Ginsburg's death jolts 2020 election 05:48

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg marks the loss of a giant who pioneered women's rights until her last days. It also marks the start of a bitter political battle over who will take her place, just weeks out from a presidential election

Ginsburg, who died Friday at age 87 after a battle with cancer, leaves behind an open seat on the Supreme Court where conservatives now outnumber the liberals. President Trump is expected to nominate a replacement, and the Republican-led Senate is sure to try to push a nominee through the confirmation process, and swiftly. 

Mr. Trump earlier this month announced his list of possible Supreme Court nominees, should he have the occasion to nominate more justices either in his current term or a second one. Those names include current judges and even senators such as Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Tom Cotton. Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, is considered a top contender for the nomination. 

At a rally on Friday night, speaking before the news of Ginsburg's death, the president mentioned potential Supreme Court nominees in passing, saying he put out a list of 40 people who are "conservative" and believe in the Constitution." The president was informed of Ginsburg's death by reporters after the rally.

"She just died? Wow. I didn't know that," the president told reporters. "She led an amazing life. What else can you say? She was an amazing woman, whether you agree or not. She was an amazing woman who led an amazing life."

On Saturday, the president called on Republicans to fill the vacant seat "without delay!" 

"@GOP We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices," he tweeted. "We have this obligation, without delay!"  

White House sources told CBS News Mr. Trump is expected to nominate a replacement for Ginsburg, even if he is not reelected. The sources said he will do everything he can to fill the seat, and expand on his legacy of appointing conservative judges to federal courts. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly said he would move swiftly to fill any vacancy on the Supreme Court, even though he used a different approach when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. 

"President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate," McConnell said in a statement Friday night. 

But it's unclear if he has the support of the entire Republican caucus, particularly among vulnerable Republicans this cycle. 

Biden reacts to death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg 03:19

Democrats in the Senate are sure to find any way they can to halt the process, although the Republican-controlled Senate leaves few options at their disposal. A simple majority of senators present and voting is required for the successful confirmation of a Supreme Court justice. Republicans currently control the Senate with 53 seats. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already weighed in on where he stands.

"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president," he tweeted Friday night.

According to CBS News exit polling after the last presidential election, 70% of Americans said appointments to the Supreme Court were the most important or an important factor in deciding their vote for president.

Ginsburg's death comes just days before the Supreme Court starts a new term, which begins in October and will be conducted remotely with telephone arguments.

Paula Reid, Alan He and Nancy Cordes contributed reporting.

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