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Senate candidate John James speaks during a President Donald Trump rally at the MBS International Airport in Freeland on Sept. 10, 2020. (Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press) Senate candidate John James speaks during a President Donald Trump rally at the MBS International Airport in Freeland on Sept. 10, 2020. (Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press)

Senate candidate John James speaks during a President Donald Trump rally at the MBS International Airport in Freeland on Sept. 10, 2020. (Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press)

Clara Hendrickson
By Clara Hendrickson September 25, 2020

John James is lone Senate candidate facing tight race who is mum on Supreme Court vote

If Your Time is short

  • Lawmakers and candidates are divided on whether the Senate should consider and vote on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee before the election. 

  • James is the only Senate candidate in a race considered competitive who has not taken a public stance on filling the vacancy.

The Michigan Democratic Party is criticizing Republican Senate candidate John James for his murky statements on filling the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.

In a campaign statement, James bemoaned partisan feuds over Supreme Court nominations.

"We need to get back to those times where people from both political parties worked together," he wrote in a campaign email. "As your senator I will fairly and honestly evaluate every Supreme Court nominee, regardless of which political party nominates."

But James’ email did not weigh in on the question that’s currently dividing lawmakers and congressional candidates, on mostly partisan lines: whether the Senate should promptly consider and vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill Ginsburg’s seat or wait until after the general election.

In 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a vote on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, arguing that the next president should fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Antonin Scalia’s death.

Republicans are now planning to move forward to consider and vote on Trump’s nominee under similar circumstances. McConnell says the fact that the White House and the Senate are controlled by the same party justifies this course.

The Michigan Democratic Party says James stands out among Senate candidates in competitive races for not making his preference clear. "James is the only Senate candidate in a battleground state who has refused to take a position," the Michigan Democratic Party claims. Trump has said he'll announce his Supreme Court nominee Saturday.

We looked through the public statements from candidates in a dozen competitive Senate races and found this statement to be accurate. James’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Competitive Senate Races

According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report which evaluates national elections, there are 12 competitive Senate races: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia (where two seats are in play), Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina and South Carolina.

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The leading Democratic candidates in each of those races have criticized their opponents or the Republican Party for moving forward with a vote on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee before the general election. In South Carolina, Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison hasn’t taken a position on the vote, but assailed his Republican opponent, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, for reversing his position from 2016.

Georgia Democrat Matt Lieberman has also not taken a position on the vote but is not seen as a competitive candidate in the state's special eleciton, and is facing calls to drop out. Raphael Warnock is the leading Democratic candidate in that contest.

In Michigan, incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Peters argued on the Senate floor this week that the Senate should wait until after the next president is inaugurated to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. "Jamming this Supreme Court nomination through now will, without question, further divide our country and disregard the fact that the American people are now voting — or soon will be in many states," Peters said.

Among Republicans, Maine Sen. Susan Collins is the only Republican candidate facing a competitive race who favors waiting until after the election to consider filling Ginsburg’s seat.

We found public statements in favor of a vote now from Republican Sens. Martha McSally, Steve Daines, Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst, Thom Tillis, Graham, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, and from GOP candidates Roger Marshall, Doug Collins and Tommy Tuberville.

James, meanwhile, criticized Peters for taking a partisan position on Supreme Court nominations and promised to evaluate any Supreme Court nominee in a nonpartisan manner. "It shouldn’t matter which political party is in the White House, and I will have the same standard whether it’s a Republican or Democrat," he wrote in a campaign email. James did not state what that standard will be.

James has not said whether the Supreme Court vacancy should be filled before the general election.

Our ruling

The Michigan Democratic Party claimed that "James is the only Senate candidate in a battleground state who has refused to take a position" on whether the Senate should promptly vote on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Among the competitive Senate races identified by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, every Republican Senate candidate, except James, has publicly indicated their position on whether to consider Trump’s Supreme Court nominee before the election. Meanwhile, every competitive Democratic candidate has criticized members of the Republican Party for changing their position on considering a Supreme Court nominee in an election year, and all but Harrison have stated their opposition to voting on Trump’s nominee before the election.

We rate this claim Mostly True. 

Our Sources

Michigan Democratic Party, "Michigan Democrats Demand John James Stop Hiding His Real Position on SCOTUS Vacancy," email, September 24, 2020

John James for Senate, "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: John James Issues Statement on SCOTUS Vacancy," email, September 21, 2020

The Cook Political Report, "2020 Senate Race Ratings," September 23, 2020

The Hill, Jordain Carney, "Collins says she will vote 'no' on Supreme Court nominee before election," September 22, 2020

PolitiFact, Louis Jacobson and Katie Sanders, "Mitch McConnell flip-flops on considering Supreme Court justices in a presidential election year," September 22, 2020

AL.com, Paul Gattis, "Sen. Doug Jones, Tommy Tuberville spar over filling Supreme Court vacancy," September 21, 2020

NBC News, Dartunorro Clark and Sahil Kapur, "Vulnerable GOP senator wants to advance Trump Supreme Court nominee, probably ensuring a vote," September 21, 2020

Martha McSally, tweet, September 18, 2020

Kelly Loeffler, tweet, September 18, 2020

The Wall Street Journal, "Where Senate Republicans Stand on Filling the Supreme Court Vacancy," September 22, 2020

The Washington Post, Kevin Schaul, Kevin Uhrmacher and JM Rieger, "Where GOP senators stand on quickly filling Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat," September 23, 2020

The News & Observer, Brian Murphy, "Tillis says Trump should fill Supreme Court seat. What did he say in 2016?," September 19, 2020

Doug Collins, tweet, September 19, 2020

The Wichita Eagle, Bryan Lowry, "Marshall and Bollier clash on Supreme Court, trade barbs in Kansas Senate debate," September 19, 2020

PBS NewsHour, Lisa Desjardins, "What every Democratic senator has said about filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year," September 24, 2020

The Arizona Republic, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, "Mark Kelly: Ginsburg's Supreme Court replacement should not be rushed 'for political purposes'," September 19, 2020

CBS Denver, "Colorado Senate Race: Hickenlooper Attacks Gardner Over Supreme Court Vacancy," September 24, 2020 

Jon Ossoff for Senate, "Sen. Perdue Silent After Vocally, Repeatedly, Adamantly Opposing Supreme Court Justice Confirmation During the 2016 Election Year," September 20, 2020

The Gainesville Times, "Georgia Senate candidates weigh in on Supreme Court vacancy," September 22, 2020

The Des Moines Register, "Harkin suggests expanding the Supreme Court, says Trump replacing Ginsburg is 'foregone conclusion'," September 24, 2020

WGME, "Sara Gideon says country should wait to nominate new Supreme Court Justice," September 21, 2020

MLive, Malachi Barrett, "Michigan Democrats push John James to clarify stance on Supreme Court vacancy," September 24, 2020

Great Falls Tribune, Phil Drake, "Montana officials enter the fray over Ginsburg replacement," September 19, 2020

Associated Press, Gary D. Robertson, "Supreme Court vacancy looms large in 2nd NC Senate debate," September 23, 2020

Associated Press, Meg Kinnard, "Sen. Graham’s challenge: Fill a court seat and save his own," September 20, 2020

Jon Ossoff, tweet, September 19, 2020 

Jaime Harrison, tweet, September 19, 2020  

The New York Times, Reid J. Epstein "Matt Lieberman faces calls to quit Georgia Senate race as Obama endorses Warnock.," September 25, 2020

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More by Clara Hendrickson

John James is lone Senate candidate facing tight race who is mum on Supreme Court vote

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