Is Grassley Right About Waiting to Fill Scalia's Seat? Depends Who You Ask

Feb 15, 2016

Senator Chuck Grassley says it’s "standard practice" to hold off nominating and confirming a U-S Supreme Court Justice during a presidential election year. The Iowa Republican’s comments come following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday. There have been several nominations and confirmations of justices during election years.

Senator Grassley chairs the Judiciary committee which is responsible for approving Supreme Court nominees. Scott Peters – a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa says it’s not a question of whether or not Grassley is lying, but how you interpret a handful of individual cases.

“We have to keep in mind that we’re in an era of very highly polarized politics and the parties often lay claim to particular principles such as Senator Grassley is doing here," Peters says. "But they tend to claim these principles unevenly in pretty self-serving ways.”

Peters says not only is this the first Supreme Court vacancy during an election year in a long time, it's the first time since Clarence Thomas’s nomination that a president of one party is putting forward a Supreme Court nomination to a Senate controlled by the other party. 

Meanwhile, Todd Pettys at the University Of Iowa College Of Law says there’s plenty of room for a good faith political debate over the record.

“We’re not in uncharted waters but we are in a pretty novel situation, fairly unfamiliar territory," Pettys says. "We’re going to have Republicans and Democrats argue over what our history does and does not teach us.”

In November 1987 President Ronald Reagan nominated Justice Anthony Kennedy to fill a vacancy. 

 The non-partisan SCOTUS blog points out two instances in the twentieth century when presidents were not able to nominate and confirm a successor during an election year.  But neither reflects a practice of leaving a seat open on the Supreme Court until after an election.