During the historic vice presidential debate, Harris once again evaded a question about Joe Biden’s alleged plans to expand the Supreme Court should the Trump administration move forward with confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the bench. Harris did this by completely misrepresenting history.
“In 1864…Abraham Lincoln was up for reelection,” Harris said. “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.
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’. And so Joe and I are very clear; the American people are voting right now. And it should be their decision about who will serve on this most important body for a lifetime.”
It’s true the passing of Chief Justice Roger Taney in October 1864 left an opening on the Supreme Court during an election year, a time when the Republicans controlled the Senate and the White House. But Lincoln never said the things Harris claimed he did.
For sake of adding a more historical perspective to the situation, it should be noted that Taney had been the author of the final majority opinion in the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision. This Supreme Court case ruled all people of African descent could not be considered United States citizens, and it deprived them of their right to sue in federal court. It also declared that the Fifth Amendment protected the rights of slaveholders to own slaves, as slaves were the legal property of their owners.
Lincoln and Taney were not exactly on the best of terms. Lincoln publicly criticized the Dred Scott decision when debating Stephen Douglas, and Lincoln made the Supreme Court ruling a major theme of his 1860 presidential campaign. Though Lincoln did not mention Taney by name, Lincoln again rebuked the ruling in his inaugural address.
Now, Harris is correct that Lincoln did not fill Taney’s seat before the November 1864 election. But was it because Lincoln believed filling the vacancy during an election year was “not the right thing to do?” No; much like the 1619 Project, this factoid from Harris is nothing more than a historical invention.
Lincoln did not send a nominee to the Senate in October of 1864 because the Senate was out of session until December 5. However, Lincoln submitted his nomination for a Supreme Court Chief Justice on December 6—his former Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Chase was confirmed that very same day.
The supposed standard Harris is pointing to that prevented Lincoln from nominating a Supreme Court Justice does not exist. Truth be told, there have been 29 such vacancies during an election year. In most of these cases, presidents have promptly made nominations to fill the open seat.
Harris also does not have much room to stand on principle here. It seems unlikely that Lincoln or any previous president would support packing the Supreme Court. The fact that Harris and Biden have repeatedly refused to answer such a basic question should make anyone who values the balance of power in our governmental institutions rather nervous.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.