Utah Sen. Mike Lee said Monday he supports moves by Republican leaders to force a vote before the election to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court — even though GOP senators blocked President Barack Obama’s nomination four years ago arguing it was too close to the election.
The support now from Lee — who is on the Judiciary Committee that will hold confirmation hearings — is no surprise. He has never been shy to say it is fine for Republicans to wield their political muscle in such proceedings as the Senate’s majority party.
His statement Monday referenced Republican’s refusal in 2016 to give a hearing to Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee.
“In 2016, President Obama nominated a replacement for Justice [Antonin] Scalia and my Senate colleagues and I gave our advice and consent on the nominee, consistent with the Constitution, by rejecting him," by refusing to hold a confirmation hearing, Lee said in a statement Monday.
“This year, President Trump will nominate a replacement for Justice Ginsburg and, consistent with the Constitution, we will again give our advice and consent," he added. “If we like the nominee, we will confirm her. If we don’t, we won’t. It’s that simple.”
Lee also said during a 2016 campaign debate that Republicans then were merely properly using their “advice and consent” power on nominees against Garland, and using political muscle as the majority party in the Senate is just part of politics.
“The Senate also acts and the Senate speaks when it chooses not to hold hearings or votes, because that’s the same result as voting the person down,” Lee said in the 2016 debate. “This is the Senate’s prerogative. … The Senate is a political body. And it’s put into the appointment process for a reason.”
Also, citing court decisions on abortion and same-sex marriage, Lee added in that 2016 debate, “With that politicization of the Supreme Court ... it shouldn’t be surprising to us that the Senate has chosen to exercise its power and let the next president fill this vacancy.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said over the weekend that Republicans are hypocrites if they allow a quick vote now after blocking Garland and said they would face serious consequences if Democrats win back control of the Senate.
Among other comments Lee made in 2016 showing his defense of using political might, the Utah senator said, “in light of the contentious presidential election already well underway, my colleagues and I on the Judiciary Committee have already given our advice and consent on this issue: We will not have any hearings or votes on President Obama’s pick.”
He also added, “Any meeting with any nominee put forward by President Obama would only be a waste of the Senate’s time. The court has very ably dealt with temporary absences in the past and will do so again now.”
Lee will have an important role to play in the upcoming fight for a Trump nominee‚ especially as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Lee and his brother, Associate Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee, also are on a list that Trump issued of his potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees. However, Trump said that he intends to nominate a woman to replace Ginsburg and may make the nomination as early as Friday or Saturday.
Lee’s father, Rex Lee, served as U.S. solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan — essentially the government’s lawyer before the Supreme Court — which gave his young son a front-row seat to history.
Lee, who clerked for Associate Justice Samuel Alito at the Supreme Court and the circuit court level, is a lawyer who previously served as general counsel to then-Gov. Jon Huntsman as well as assistant U.S. attorney.
Lee was a “Never Trumper” in 2016. He voted for independent Evan McMullin as a protest and attempted to replace the former TV reality show star with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas as party nominee at the Republican National Convention.
He has made a full conversion in recent years, signing on as a co-chairman of Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign in Utah and publicly praising the president’s policies more often than criticizing him. He delivered Utah’s 40 delegate votes to Trump at this year’s GOP convention, saying: “In Utah, we love the Founding Fathers and we love the idea of four more years [of Trump].”
This month at a political rally in Pennsylvania, Trump said Lee “is doing excellent,” at the same time he said Utah Sen. Mitt Romney couldn’t be elected as a dogcatcher.
Editor’s note • Sept. 21, 4:37 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect Sen. Mike Lee’s statement on a quick Senate vote on a Supreme Court nominee.