US President Donald Trump and his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett (Image: AP/Alex Brandon)

Another election, another debate over the right of a US president to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in the final months of their term.

President Donald Trump has selected Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the US Supreme Court, and Senate Republicans are committing to support him, despite taking the opposite stance when Barack Obama attempted the same thing in 2016.

It’s already become a flashpoint — US$1.8 million has been spent on political ads about the Supreme Court in the 10 days since Ginsburg’s death, according to Advertising Analytics.

The question then becomes: what, if anything, can the Democrats do in response?

The short answer is bollocks all, really. Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, and the chance to install another conservative Supreme Court justice — confirming conservative domination of the court for decades to come — has swept away any concerns about quaint notions like consistency.

The best bet will be disruption and delay — slowing legislative business and calling committee business to a halt as often as possible, among many other uses of process. Indeed, a memo is circulating on capital hill urging just that. Elsewhere, senators are arguing they won’t meet with Barrett and will potentially boycott her confirmation hearings.

But in the likely event this fails, things get more interesting if the Democrats take back the Senate in November.

In that case, they could potentially bring in reforms to prevent the Republicans’ ceaseless gerrymandering (and thus control of various judicial appointments) and strengthen the Voting Rights Act to end voter suppression among groups more likely to vote Democrat.

Finally there’s the possibility of expanding the Supreme Court from nine to 11 justices, and making appointments to mitigate the current conservative majority. Of course, that relies on a Joe Biden presidency and a Democratic majority in Congress and the Senate — which adds a layer of political risk to Democratic senators acting as gleeful wreckers for the next few months.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey