During last night’s vice presidential debate, Kamala Harris (D-CA) cited Abraham Lincoln in arguing that President Donald Trump should not have nominated Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat that was vacated by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Unfortunately for Harris, however, it has since been revealed that she was not being so honest about “Honest Abe’s” record in this situation.
“In 1864… Abraham Lincoln was up for reelection, and it was 27 days before the election, and a seat became open on the United States Supreme Court. Abraham Lincoln’s party was in charge not only of the White House but the Senate,” Harris said on the debate stage.
“But Honest Abe said, ‘It’s not the right thing to do. The American people deserve to make the decision about who will be the next president of the United States and then that person can select who will serve for a lifetime on the highest court of our land,'” she added.
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) October 8, 2020
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It has since been confirmed that Lincoln never said anything like this. The polarization of the Supreme Court is still fairly new, basically dating back to the 1973 Roe V. Wade decision. Before that, nominations to the Supreme Court typically proceeded as a matter of course, according to PJ Media.
Harris was telling the truth about Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney dying on October 12, 1864, and Lincoln not naming a successor until after the election. However, this decision had nothing to do with allowing “the next president” to choose the nominee. Instead, Lincoln only delayed the decision because the Senate was not in session at the time of Taney’s death. That year, the Senate session ended on the Fourth of July, and did not convene again until December.
“It was once common for the Senate to be out of session for much of the summer and fall,” Dan McLaughlin wrote for the National Review. He added that Lincoln nominated Salmon P. Chase to fill Taney’s seat on the day the Senate reconvened, and he was confirmed that very day.
In fact, historian David Donald has alleged that Lincoln strategically dangled the possibility of a Supreme Court nomination in front of Chase, a former senator, governor, secretary of the Treasury, and presidential candidate, in the hopes that he would support his reelection. It worked, as Chase did end up supporting him, and Lincoln followed through with the deal by nominating him.
This shows that contrary to what Harris said, Lincoln did not delay his Supreme Court nomination because of some big democratic principle. Instead, he only did so because the Senate was not in session, and he saw the opportunity to benefit himself politically by using the nomination strategically to reel in Chase.
So much for honesty, Kamala Harris.