“If Hillary Clinton becomes president, I’m going to do everything I can do to make sure that four years from now we’ve still got an opening on the Supreme Court,” Burr told supporters in a private meeting in Mooresville Oct. 29.
Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the UNC School of Law, said this would leave the Court with eight or fewer justices for the next four years, which could have negative effects.
“The Court is not fully staffed and thus not capable of being able to do all the things that a nine-member court could do, which is definitively decide every case that comes to it,” he said.
Gerhardt said during that period many major cases have the potential to come up, including ones on basic democratic values such as freedom of speech and religion.
Bill Marshall, a professor in the UNC School of Law, said the Supreme Court has already been affected by its one-person vacancy.
“I think that part of the problem is that the Supreme Court now seems to be not taking important issues that they might otherwise take, or even not giving a hearing to some issues,” he said.
Gerhardt said Burr’s own re-election campaign has much to do with his decision to take this position.
“He’s trying to turn his re-election campaign into a referendum on whether or not the next senator from North Carolina should be voting on the next Supreme Court nominee,” he said.
Burr’s main opponent, Democratic senatorial candidate Deborah Ross, has addressed the issue at multiple campaign events.
“He does not respect our Constitution,” she said at a rally for Hillary Clinton in Raleigh on Thursday. “When you put your hand on that Bible and swear an oath to the Constitution, you have got to do your job and have advice and consent for those Supreme Court justices.”
Marshall said the major issue is these senators are refusing to even hold a hearing on a potential Supreme Court nominee.
“I do think that a senator, any senator, Democrat or Republican, has a responsibility to provide a hearing to a judicial nominee,” he said.
Jason Roberts, associate professor in the UNC Department of Political Science, said in an email if Democrats win both the presidential and the senatorial elections, they will likely change this procedure.
“I think it is inevitable that if the Democrats take the Senate and Clinton wins the presidency they will eliminate the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations like they did for other positions back in 2013,” he said.
Marshall said it is crucial to have a working Supreme Court.
“We look to the Supreme Court to help us decide our most contestable issues and it’s the interest of everybody to have a functioning and vibrant Supreme Court,” he said.