NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., about the life and legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the political maneuvering following her death.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Republicans and Democrats are preparing for the coming battle to try to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Dick Durbin will be at the forefront. The Democrat from Illinois is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he joins us from Chicago. Senator, thanks so much for being with us.
DICK DURBIN: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: When Justice Scalia died in the months before the 2016 election, you were quite eloquent in your calls that President Obama ought to be able to fill that vacancy. What's different now with the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ginsburg?
DURBIN: Well, of course, Senator McConnell established a Senate precedent in denying Merrick Garland, President Obama's nominee, to fill a Scalia vacancy, even an appointment for an interview, let alone to be part of the process that might lead to the Supreme Court. And now he wants to change the rules again and basically to say in the closing days, I hope, of the Trump presidency that he should be allowed to fill this vacancy regardless. I think we have to be consistent one way or the other. And at this moment in time, I believe that he should listen to at least two members of his caucus who are calling for fairness.
SIMON: Can you imagine a compromise here either on the timeline or even a nominee?
DURBIN: Well, you would hope that reasonable people could sit down and find a compromise that is fair. But I will tell you the experience we've had with Senator McConnell in filling federal judicial vacancies over the last several years don't give me much hope.
SIMON: Are there Republicans you think you might be able to convince to delay the nomination, not bring it to a vote either - well, for a happy combination of either good governance or practical political factors?
DURBIN: Well, hope springs eternal - the fact that Lisa Murkowski and, I understand, Susan Collins have spoken up and said fair is fair, and we should leave this vacancy to the next president. Maybe some others will - some for good reasons, some for strictly personal political reasons.
SIMON: And each could be helpful, right?
DURBIN: Well, it could. And it only takes four. If there are four who will stand together and tell Senator McConnell that this is the wrong thing to do, that if we argued before that Obama did not have, should not have the authority to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in the closing days of a presidency, that the American people should have the last word in the election - if that was a standard back in the Scalia vacancy, it should play as well here.
SIMON: Supreme Court opens, of course, a new session in a couple of weeks, and there are some very important cases, including one that question the validity of the Affordable Care Act. That's due to be argued this November. What are some of your concerns about the court functioning of eight - with just eight people?
DURBIN: Well, I am concerned about it. And the Affordable Care Act has been a singular purpose of the Republican Party since it passed to eliminate it. The fact that they have no substitute for it, and so many people would be left without protection doesn't stop them. It's the reason, incidentally, John McCain joined with the Democrats in saving the Affordable Care Act on the floor of the Senate before he passed away. The situation still applies. When you ask people across America in the midst of a pandemic, what is their major concern? - it is still the availability of affordable, quality health care for people with preexisting conditions.
SIMON: Is the Supreme Court right up there with the pandemic as a major issue in the election campaign now?
DURBIN: Yes, I would say so and all the more so because of the vacancy itself. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an extraordinary, valiant lady who really made a great contribution to America. Scott, just reflect on the fact that here we are in just a matter of days to have two icons of civil rights and human rights in America leave our life and go into the beyond. That to me is an indication of the importance of this vacancy and the importance it can have on the future of this country.
SIMON: Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, thanks so much for being with us.
DURBIN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.