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Local voters clash on Supreme Court politics

The ideological fight over the future of the U.S. Supreme Court is polarizing southeastern Connecticut residents, too.

Day readers throughout the region aired their thoughts on the matter in answers they submitted by email to a survey last week. The Day reached out to more than 70 people of all political stripes to determine their thoughts on the political battle to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court following her death on Sept. 18. These are the answers from 20 voters who responded.

They considered whether President Donald Trump should fill Ginsburg’s seat ahead of the November election. They discussed whether it’s hypocritical for Republicans to fill Ginsburg’s seat after the party stonewalled former President Barack Obama’s attempt to put Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court. And they discussed whether it’s hypocritical that Democrats oppose filling Ginsburg's seat after they advocated for Garland to be on the bench.

Old Lyme Democrat Michael Gaffey touched on a repeated theme among Democratic respondents: a sense of defeatism.

“Opposition may be best described as righteous indignation with a sense of futility,” Gaffey said.

Democrats and unaffiliated voters expressed a feeling of hopelessness, as they anticipate the GOP ushering in Trump’s nominee, conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett, with relative ease.

“Trump has all the authority he needs. It’s an abuse of that authority, it’s true,” Robert Chew, a Mystic Democrat, said. “But there is no constitutional check on that abuse except the legislative process, which is irreparably broken in these days of minority rule. So it’s going to happen.”

Other Republicans also claimed neither party is abandoning principles and adopting convenient arguments in this case.

"Republicans control the Senate and, therefore, control the agenda in that chamber (like they did in 2016)," John Godin, a Stonington Republican supportive of a Trump nominee to the Supreme Court, wrote. "If voters disagree with the decision then they can voice their concerns in the time leading up to Election Day and cast their vote in opposition on Election Day."

Godin wrote that as the minority party in the Senate, Democrats "have every right to contest a decision they disagree with."

Linda Hinz, an unaffiliated voter from New London, said she is concerned about the legitimacy of a nomination so soon before the election.

“The Senate should hold robust and vigorous hearings and realistically vet any candidate that is before them,” Hinz wrote. “I have grave doubts they will do so since that kind of genuine investigation would most likely not be completed prior to the election.”

She continued, bringing up the possible consequences of a solidly conservative Supreme Court ahead of a close and contentious election.

“Trump has made it abundantly clear that he will not guarantee a peaceful transition in the event he loses,” Hinz wrote.

Unaffiliated Gales Ferry resident Fran Scanlon-Sills is similarly troubled, as she expects a full bench before the election.

“I feel that a replacement will be rammed through, unfortunately for the country,” Scanlon-Sills wrote. “It is quite possible that those conservatives who voted for Trump while holding their noses because of his moral deficiencies may be content with a super majority on the SCOTUS and now vote him out. Too much of a silver lining?”

One answer from Branford Democrat Eunice Arnold epitomized the gloom of her peers.

“He is going to fill that seat. I think the sooner the better. The longer the process goes on, the more time it takes away from the other issues,” Arnold wrote. “[Democrats] can oppose all they want, it’s going to happen. Put the energy into getting rid of Trump and Moscow Mitch!”

Gaffey represented the views of most of his party when he said Republican logic about the last two Supreme Court vacancies has been “self-serving.”

Norwich Democrat Jason Morris is of the same opinion.

“This Republican-controlled Senate set the precedent back in 2016,” Morris wrote. “Now that the shoe is on the other foot, they want to be hypocrites and reach for as much power as possible no matter what it may mean for their moral compass and seemingly bottomless lack of honor. Loyalty to their king is most important.”

Atul Shah, a Waterford Democrat, had similar sentiments.

“Given the shameful precedent set by Senate Republicans in 2016 when they refused to even hold hearings for President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, effectively resulting in the theft of that seat by the Republicans, I think it would be wrong for Trump to fill the vacancy left by Justice Ginsburg’s passing,” Shah wrote.

Gaffey aligned with the majority of his fellow party members when he said Democrats were not being hypocritical in saying it’s too close to the election to replace Ginsburg.

Waterford Democrat Bill Sheehan defended his party, highlighting a distinction between Obama’s nomination of Garland and Trump’s nomination of Barrett.

“It is too close to the election (less than 40 days),” Sheehan wrote in saying Ginsburg’s seat shouldn’t be filled until after the election. Republicans, on the other hand, “stalled over 400 days with no hearings. This is a power play by the Senate Majority Leader who is fulfilling his goal to make sure that there is a conservative judiciary for the next generation. He has made it judges over legislation.”

George Blahun of Quaker Hill, a Green Party voter, explained why he thinks Republicans, not Democrats, are the hypocrites in this Supreme Court battle.

“The GOP set the current standard,” Blahun wrote. But he was more optimistic than some others on the left. “The GOP will be shooting themselves in their collective foot if they force this through. The Democrats, should they take control of both houses of Congress, will just add two more justices to the SCOTUS.”

Ed Fialkosky, a Mystic Republican, didn’t stick to the party line in his answers, saying he doesn’t think a new justice should be confirmed before the November election. He also said neither Republicans nor Democrats were being hypocritical in this debate.

“They would all be within their legal rights,” Fialkosky said of Republican and Democratic legislators. “All politicians are hypocrites. The Democrats simply lie better.”

Robert Neill of Colchester, who called himself a conservative Libertarian, said that he has great respect for Ginsburg, a liberal icon, but he thinks the bench should return to nine justices before the election.

"My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed," Ginsburg said to her granddaughter shortly before her death, NPR reported.

Neill said Republicans are not being hypocritical because Obama was in his second term when he nominated Garland.

“It’s like arguing that if something happened to Trump right now then we should wait and vote on the next president versus having Pence fill in,” Neill added.

Some didn’t really answer the questions, and instead despaired for the country, offering a grim outlook on its political system.

“What is really a shame is that Trump and Biden are our choices for the highest office in the land,” Bruce Bentley of East Lyme, who identifies as “kind of Republican,” wrote. “I am so sick of these two political parties backbiting, taking up the airwaves, and spending taxpayer money doing so.”

Bob Salen, a Niantic Independent who said he usually splits his vote, is voting all-Democrat this year.

“Mitch McConnell's treatment of Obama's nominee and refusal to vote on him during Obama's last year in office was despicable enough,” Salen wrote. “He has now compounded that sin by reversing himself in the most partisan, cowardly way imaginable.”

s.spinella@theday.com

 

About this story

The Day wants to inform the region's voters about important issues and races during Election 2020. We also want to engage with our readers during this important coverage. We will ask for your input and feedback via social media, email newsletters, text messaging and during livestreamed debates. We will strive to accurately and fairly represent the diverse perspectives of the voters and candidates of southeastern Connecticut.

For this article, The Day reached out to more than 70 people of all political stripes to determine their thoughts on the political battle to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court after her death on Sept. 18. We heard back from 20 respondents — people who both told The Day they want to be part of our election coverage and spoke their mind without anonymity. To become part of our future coverage, complete the form at the bottom of this story online.

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