NEW CASTLE, DELAWARE (REUTERS) - Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on Friday (Sept 17) that "there is no doubt" that the winner of November's presidential election should pick Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's replacement.
"There is no doubt - let me be clear - that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider," Mr Biden told reporters after learning of Ms Ginsburg's death.
Mr Biden's remarks appear to set the stage for a partisan fight over the judiciary that could dominate the fewer than seven weeks remaining until the Nov 3 presidential election.
Ms Ginsburg, a stalwart liberal on the Supreme Court since 1993, died on Friday at age 87, giving President Donald Trump a narrow window in which to expand the court's conservative majority with a third appointment during a tough re-election fight.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he intends to act on any nomination Mr Trump makes. Mr Biden's comments signal he and the party will fight such a move.
Mr McConnell's stance reverses the position he took four years ago, when he refused to act on Democratic President Barack Obama's election-year nomination of centrist appeals court judge Merrick Garland to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016.
Some Democrats accused Mr McConnell and his fellow Republicans of "stealing" a Supreme Court seat by blocking Mr Garland's appointment. Mr Biden, who was Mr Obama's vice-president, has said he wished Democrats had been "a whole heck of a lot harder" on Mr McConnell during that fight.
Mr McConnell's explained his position in a statement on Friday, saying that in 2016 the Senate and White House were controlled by different parties, while now they are both controlled by Republicans. Democrats have called Mr McConnell's about-face hypocrisy.
The Democratic former vice-president learned of Ms Ginsburg's death while flying home from a campaign trip in Minnesota and he delivered brief remarks to reporters at an airport in New Castle, Delaware, without taking questions.
As a senator, Mr Biden presided over Ms Ginsburg's confirmation hearings for the job in 1993.
"Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood for all of us," Mr Biden said. "She has been absolutely consistent and reliable and a voice for freedom and opportunity for everyone."
Ms Ginsburg's death could dramatically alter the ideological balance of the court, which already had a 5-4 conservative majority, moving it further to the right. The issue thrust courts into the centre of an election that had been dominated by the coronavirus and its public health and economic consequences.
Mr Trump on Sept 9 unveiled a list of potential nominees to fill any future Supreme Court vacancies in a move aimed at bolstering support among conservative voters. Mr Biden has pledged to name a Black woman to the Supreme Court but so far has resisted unveiling his own list of nominees.