Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., says it would be "political hypocrisy" for Republicans to move ahead and confirm a nominee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court before Election Day.
"I've seen things I've questioned, but I've never seen political hypocrisy at this level. I mean, it will actually go down in the journals of political hypocrisy," Leahy said in an interview Saturday with NPR's Weekend Edition.
Leahy's remarks followed a statement from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that the Senate will vote on whomever President Trump nominates to succeed Ginsburg, who died Friday at the age of 87.
Leahy echoed a growing chorus of Democrats — including former President Obama and Democratic nominee Joe Biden — who have all said Ginsburg's replacement should be selected after the presidential election. Ginsburg herself in her final days dictated a statement saying, "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."
Leahy, who sits on the Senate Judiciary committee, called McConnell's stance a "flip flop," pointing to his refusal to consider Obama nominee Merrick Garland in the months leading up to the 2016 election. He said a vote now would "stain the Supreme Court."
"The Supreme Court has to be above politics," Leahy said. "... If they are seen as just a political arm of whoever is president, it loses that validity. It loses the confidence the American people should have in the Supreme Court."
Following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, McConnell said that picking his replacement should await the results of that year's election because "the American people should have a voice in the selection."
In his Friday statement, McConnell drew a distinction between then and now, saying unlike in 2016 when Democrats controlled the White House and Republicans the Senate, the president and the Senate majority are now of the same party.
Leahy said that in the coming days he would try to appeal to his Republican colleagues based on "their sense of tradition, their sense that the Senate should be the conscience of the nation."
He added that he had hoped that his colleagues would "take a deep breath and talk about the legacy of Justice Ginsburg."
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Now the political fight begins. Within hours of the news of the death of Justice Ginsburg, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said that President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate, a different message from 2016, when Senator McConnell blocked President Obama's nominee eight months before the election. Democrats, of course, are crying hypocrisy. Patrick Leahy is the senior Senator from Vermont, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator, thank you for being with us.
PATRICK LEAHY: Thank you. It's good to be with you.
SIMON: And before I get to the necessary messy stuff of politics, I wonder if you'd like to share a memory about Justice Ginsburg.
LEAHY: Oh, I think the world of her. I've had times with her. I remember a year ago, when my wife Marcel introduced her at a Prevent Cancer event and how emotional that was. They were both cancer survivors, and they talked about it. She was very much a human being. We used to sometimes sit with her at the Kennedy Center listening to operas. She was a great opera fan. But she was always so nice. I mean, whenever I'd have anybody with me from my office - lawyers, men, women - she would take time and talk with them. And they'd walk away - wow, isn't she something?
SIMON: Senator McConnell argues that because the White House and Senate are now controlled by the same party, unlike it was four years ago. The principles he upheld in 2016 when he blocked Merrick Garland's nomination don't apply now. How do you receive that?
LEAHY: Well, I'm now the dean of the Senate. I've been there longer than anybody else. I've seen things I questioned, but I've never seen political hypocrisy at this level. I mean, it doesn't - it will actually go down in the journals of political hypocrisy. He blocked Barack Obama's nominee, a man who would have been easily confirmed because so many Republicans as well as Democrats supported him. That was Merrick Garland. But he said, we don't do this in an election year. Of course, we have. I think the last time we voted on a nominee - he'd been nominated the year before, but on election year, Ronald Reagan was the president. The Democrats were in control of the Senate, and we confirmed Justice Kennedy. So this is a flip-flop as pure politics. But what hurts the most - it is going to stain the Supreme Court.
SIMON: Stain the Supreme Court because of the politics?
LEAHY: Yes, because the Supreme Court has to be above politics. The Supreme Court has to have the respect of the country, as it did when it's done some of its major, decisions, like ending segregation. But if they are seen as just a political arm of whoever is president, it loses that validity and loses the confidence the American people should have in the Supreme Court.
SIMON: Senator Leahy, let me ask you. Do you have in your mind - and maybe you want to share the names or maybe not - the names of several Republican colleagues in the Senate who you hope to convince to hold off a vote?
LEAHY: No. I will talk to some of them privately. I would appeal to their sense of tradition, their sense that the Senate should be the conscience of the nation. And if it rushes through on something, then it's not being. But actually, I would hope that everybody would take a deep breath and talk about the legacy of Justice Ginsburg. I mean, look what she's done. She opened up the Virginia Military Institute to women. Her dissent in the Lilly Ledbetter case led to Congress passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. She has been a model to so many men and women in the law, and we ought to be celebrating her legacy, not jumping out actually within minutes after her death was announced to say, oh, we're going to slam through somebody because it's important politically with the election this year. That's wrong.
SIMON: Thanks very much, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
LEAHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.