Politics

Which Republicans might support a Biden nominee for the Supreme Court? Few, if any.

WASHINGTON — Given the current level of political polarization, only a handful of Senate Republicans are likely to be in play as potential supporters of President Biden’s first Supreme Court nominee.

Many Republicans in the Senate have, as a matter of course, opposed Mr. Biden’s nominees for seats on the lower federal courts, portraying them as too liberal. The intense spotlight of a Supreme Court nomination — and the importance Republican voters traditionally place on the court — will make drawing support from across the aisle even tougher for the president.

Just three Republicans — Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted in June to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is considered a front-runner to succeed Justice Stephen G. Breyer, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“I think she’s qualified for the job,” Mr. Graham, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters at the time. “She has a different philosophy than I do.”

But backing someone for an appeals court post does not guarantee the same level of support for a high court vacancy. Multiple senators have voted against Supreme Court nominees they had previously backed.

Ms. Murkowski, a centrist Republican who is seeking re-election this year, has previously gone her own way on high court nominations, opposing President Donald J. Trump’s choice of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in 2018 but backing his nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020. Ms. Collins, another closely watched senator on Supreme Court nominations, voted to confirm Mr. Kavanaugh but opposed Ms. Barrett.

Support for high court nominees from the opposite party of the president has been in steady decline as the partisanship of Supreme Court fights has increased, along with consideration of nominees for federal judgeships at every level. Even district court nominees, who in the past were often approved on voice votes, now draw heavy opposition. And Republicans have promised to dig in even deeper this year, after the White House rejected some Republican recommendations for home-state court openings.

As Republicans have lined up against Mr. Biden’s judicial nominees, party leaders argue it is only fair to do so given the depth of opposition Democrats showed to Mr. Trump’s judicial choices.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which will consider Mr. Biden’s nominee to succeed Mr. Breyer, also includes multiple Republican senators considered possible future presidential candidates. Those senators, in particular, will want to try to demonstrate to Republican voters their views on who should — and should not be — on the high court.

One factor to be considered, though, is Mr. Biden’s pledge to seat the first Black woman on the high court. That historic development could conceivably influence the votes of Republicans who want to be counted as supporters of diversifying the court.

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