Just hours after news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death broke, the Republican candidates gathered in Greenville, South Carolina for another GOP debate. While they were all prepared to speak about Scalia’s conservative legacy, the candidates apparently did not have enough time to brush up on their facts about the country’s highest court.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) declared that President Obama should not nominate a successor this year and that the decision should be left for the next president. “We have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court Justices in an election year,” he said.
CBS’ John Dickerson then pressed Cruz on whether anyone has been confirmed in an election year, pointing to current Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s confirmation in 1988. Cruz appeared confused.
“No, Kennedy was confirmed in ’87,” the senator, who was once a Supreme Court clerk, said.
Dickerson quickly corrected him. “He was appointed in ’87, confirmed in ’88. Is it appointing or confirming?,” he asked, leaving Cruz momentarily stunned.
“I just want to get the facts straight for the audience,” Dickerson continued, prompting boos.
President Ronald Reagan nominated Justice Kennedy to a vacant Supreme Court seat in November 1987. Kennedy’s nomination received bipartisan support and he was confirmed by the Senate in February 1988, by a vote of 97 to 0. The vote occurred in an election year and less than a year before Reagan left office.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) also mixed up his facts about the Supreme Court during the debate, despite the hours he had on Saturday to prepare talking points about Scalia’s death.
“It’s been over 80 years since a lame duck president has appointed a Supreme Court Justice,” he said, again forgetting about Reagan’s nomination of Kennedy and 16 other Justices who were confirmed by the Senate during a presidential election year.
All six candidates on the debate stage said that the Senate should wait for the next president to confirm a nomination. Donald Trump conceded that if he were president now, he would “certainly” try to name a replacement, but he hopes the Senate will be able to “delay, delay, delay.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he wishes Obama would think about not nominating someone, but if he does, Kasich says he hopes the nominee would be someone with widespread support. And Ben Carson questioned lifetime appointments, and added that he fully agrees that “we should not allow a judge to be appointed during his time.”