Even without a Senate race, Supreme Court battle likely to weigh on voters

  • FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2018, file photo, people rally outside of the Supreme Court in opposition to Ohio's voter roll purges in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File) Jacquelyn Martin

  • FILe - In this June 1, 2017, file photo, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gather for an official group portrait to include new Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, top row, far right at the Supreme Court Building in Washington. Seated, from left are, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, and Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. Standing, from left are, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr., Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. The 81-year-old Kennedy said Tuesday, June 27, 2018, that he is retiring after more than 30 years on the court. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) J. Scott Applewhite

  • Young activists demonstrate at the Supreme Court as President Donald Trump prepares to choose a replacement for Justice Anthony Kennedy, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 28, 2018 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite

For the Monitor
Friday, June 29, 2018

Less than 90 minutes after the breaking news of U.S. Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy’s pending retirement, congressional candidate and executive councilor Chris Pappas went on social media to reach out to his supporters.

With Kennedy’s retirement giving President Donald Trump a prime opportunity to replace the crucial swing vote on the nation’s high court with a reliable conservative justice, the Democratic candidate in New Hampshire’s First Congressional District wrote that the sudden development was “further proof that we all need to be off the sidelines in 2018 and 2020.”

On the other side of the aisle, state Rep. Steve Negron, a congressional candidate in New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District, said the issue is a wake up call to all Republicans.

“I’m very confident this Supreme Court vacancy will be yet another driver of activist and Republican voter excitement,” Negron said.

The quick move by Pappas and the prediction by Negron signal that the brewing battle to replace Kennedy stands to be an indelible topic in the state’s two congressional races, as well as the campaigns for governor and the legislature, even though New Hampshire doesn’t have a U.S. Senate election this year.

“The Supreme Court nomination nationalizes every race in New Hampshire,” New England College political science professor Wayne Lesperance said. “It becomes a litmus test for every candidate seeking office.”

Kennedy’s announcement triggers what’s expected to be a colossal confirmation fight in the Senate over whomever the President nominates as his successor.

Senate Democrats in 2016 urged the GOP majority in the chamber to allow a vote on Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee to replace the late justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans argued that voters needed to weigh in during the presidential election before the Senate could move forward with confirmation hearings.

Trump ended up winning the presidential election and after he was inaugurated nominated conservative Neil Gorsuch.

Now Democrats are urging that any vote on Kennedy’s successor be held after this year’s midterm elections, when voters decide the composition of the next Senate. But the GOP majority is planning on a vote before the November contests.

“Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set a clear rule for consideration of Supreme Court nominees, and he should stick to it, ” Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen told the Monitor. There shouldn’t be separate procedures for nominees put forward by Democratic presidents and nominees put forward by Republican presidents.”

Kathy Sullivan, one of two New Hampshire members on the Democratic National Committee, said the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation showdown will pump up an already energized Democratic base that’s angry at Trump, but also wary of seeing erosion of Roe v. Wade, gay marriage and voting rights.

“New Hampshire is a fiscally prudent but socially moderate state and they don’t want to elect people who will take us back to the last century in terms of rights of all people,” Sullivan explained.

Josh Query, the vice chairman of the New Hampshire Stonewall Democrats – which works to elect pro-LGBTQ Democrats in federal, state and local elections – said the issue has already become a pivotal topic.

“I definitely think that it will energize our group of people, our community, to get out and support LGBTQ plus candidates like myself and other ones across the state and really knock doors, talk to voters, and hopefully make change,” said Query, who’s also running for state representative.

While Democrats see a silver lining that could pay dividends come November’s election, Republicans say the prospect of another conservative justice sitting on the high court will pump up their voters as well.

“The enthusiasm the Democrats have will be matched with the enthusiasm by the Republicans,” veteran New Hampshire based GOP consultant Lauren Carney predicted.

“It just gives more fuel to the fire, with or without a U.S. Senate race here in New Hampshire,” added Carney, a top adviser to Carly Fiorina’s 2016 presidential campaign.

She said the upcoming confirmation fight will unify the Republican party, comparing the situation to a family reunion.

Family members “all come together for important occasions,” Carney said. “This is an important occasion for Republicans, and Republicans will come together to support a nominee because the Supreme Court justices go beyond the president’s term and affect so much more for decades.”