Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris refused to say during Wednesday’s debate whether she and presidential nominee Joe Biden support a “court-packing” proposal to add seats to the U.S. Supreme Court, responding with an answer that reflected Biden’s own silence on the issue.
The sole vice presidential debate was filled with question-dodging from both sides – Pence included – and was conducted with both candidates seated and divided by plexiglass dividers due to the pandemic. It was held in Salt Lake City.
Much of the debate focused on President Trump’s nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Because Barrett’s confirmation could move the court to the right, some Democrats have proposed adding seats to the court to counter the ideological swing. The court has had nine seats since 1869.
“I think the American people really deserve an answer, Senator Harris. Are you and Joe Biden going to pack the court if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed?” Pence asked.
After Harris dodged the question, Pence responded, “The people deserve a straight answer, and if you haven't figured it out yet, the straight answer is they are going to pack the Supreme Court if they somehow win this election.
“Men and women, I’ve got to tell you people across this country, if you cherish our Supreme Court, if you cherish the separation of powers, you need to reject the Biden-Harris ticket come November 3rd, re-elect President Donald Trump, and we'll stand by that separation of powers and a nine-seat Supreme Court,” Pence said.
Pence, too, dodged a question when moderator Susan Page asked him if he would favor his home state of Indiana banning “all abortions” if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Pence, though, did speak up for his pro-life views.
“I couldn't be more proud to serve as vice president to a president who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life. I'm pro-life,” Pence said. “I don't apologize for it, and this is another one of those cases where there's such a dramatic contrast. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris support taxpayer funding of abortion all the way up to the moment of birth – late-term abortion. They want to increase funding to Planned Parenthood of America. For our part, I would never presume how Judge Amy Coney Barrett would rule on the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Pence urged Democrats to give Barrett a fair hearing and not attack her Christian faith. He said Harris had participated in attacks on faith in the past.
“We particularly hope that we don't see the kind of attacks on her Christian faith that we saw before. The Democrat [ranking member] of the Judiciary Committee before, when Judge Barrett was being confirmed for the court of appeals, expressed concern that the dogma of her faith lived loudly in her,” Pence said, referencing comments by Sen. Dianne Feinstein. “Dick Durbin of Illinois said that it was a concern.
“Senator, I know one of our judicial nominees you actually attacked, because they were a member of the Catholic Knights of Columbus – just because the Knights of Columbus holds pro-life views,” Pence said to Harris.
Harris rejected any implication she is anti-religion.
“Joe Biden and I are both people of faith, and it's insulting to suggest that we would knock anyone for their faith, and in fact, Joe, if elected, will be only the second practicing Catholic as president of the United States,” Harris said.
On the Barrett nomination, Harris said, “We're literally in an election. Over 4 million people have voted. People are in the process of voting right now. And so, Joe has been very clear, as the American people are: Let the American people fill that seat in the White House. And then we'll fill that seat on the United States Supreme Court. … The issues before us couldn't be more serious. There's the issue of choice and I will always fight for a woman's right to make a decision about her own body. It should be her decision and not that of Donald Trump, and the vice president, Michael Pence.”
The Affordable Care Act also is at stake, Harris said.
Harris claimed President Lincoln was in a similar position as Trump with a Supreme Court vacancy and waited until after the election to fill it, in order to let the voters have a say. The Washington Post, though, said “there is no evidence [Lincoln] thought the seat should be filled by the winner of the election.” Instead, Lincoln kept the seat briefly open so Americans could offer advice – through letters – on who to select, The Post said. This, in turn, kept Republican leaders “in line” who might have opposed Lincoln but who also wanted to be his nominee, The Post said.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Pool
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.