Top Democrats Hope Sotomayor Learns Lesson From Ginsburg's Death: Report

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's sudden death gave Republicans the chance to pick her replacement in 2020, and some fear a repeat.

Top Senate Democrats shied away from joining the calls for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to retire while their party has the opportunity to choose her replacement, according to a Wednesday report by NBC News. But with memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death still fresh, the debate appears far from over.

Ginsburg had resisted calls to step down while she could be replaced with another liberal by President Barack Obama. When she died in 2020, President Donald Trump worked with Republicans to ram a conservative replacement through the approval process, giving the court its current 6-3 rightward lean.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) — who sit on the Senate’s powerful Judiciary Committee — all declined to say that Sotomayor should retire when asked by NBC News.

Blumenthal, however, offered some advice to the justice.

“I’m very respectful of Justice Sotomayor. I have great admiration for her. But I think she really has to weigh the competing factors,” he told the outlet. “We should learn a lesson. And it’s not like there’s any mystery here about what the lesson should be.”

Whitehouse told NBC News that a 7-2 conservative-liberal balance would make for a “full MAGA court.”

Sotomayor, who turns 70 years old in June, has been one of the court’s most consistent liberal voices over her nearly 15 years on the bench. Yet a small but growing number of progressive political commentators worry about the consequences for American civil liberties if she should suddenly need to be replaced in the coming years, given how the 2024 elections could put Trump in the White House once more and hand Republicans control of the Senate.

Appearing Tuesday on CNN, political commentator Mehdi Hasan said that he had “PTSD” from Ginsburg’s sudden death in 2020 after fighting cancer.

Sotomayor’s health — she has Type 1 diabetes and asked to travel with a medic at least once — has given some court watchers reason to fear a similar outcome.

“My worry is 7-2,” Hasan said. “Republicans are very good at stacking courts, at getting their people on courts. ... Democrats are’t very good at seeing the power of the Supreme Court, and that’s why I worry. I worry that, why would you want to repeat history? Why take the risk? You have a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate, and you have a justice who’s about to turn 70.”

In an opinion piece published Monday in the Guardian, Hasan wrote that it “pains” him to say Sotomayor should retire. But he argued that a 7-2 conservative majority has the potential to do far more harm than the current 6-3 balance, where conservative and liberal justices have been able to find common ground on issues like “ghost guns” to make decisions with a 5-4 vote.

The White House has declined to call for Sotomayor’s retirement, saying that the decision is up to her.

“It shouldn’t be a personal choice,” Hasan argued Tuesday. “The U.S. Supreme Court is one of the only supreme courts in the democratic world that has lifetime tenure. It’s mad.”

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