Kamala Harris’s ‘Little History Lesson’ About Lincoln’s Supreme Court Vacancy Wasn’t Exactly TrueHistorians in the News
tags: Abraham Lincoln, 2020 Election, Kamala Harris
The question from vice-presidential debate moderator Susan Page was actually about preexisting conditions.
But Vice President Pence ignored it because he wanted to raise the specter of Democrats packing the Supreme Court if former vice president Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala D. Harris win the election next month.
“There have been 29 vacancies on the Supreme Court during presidential election years from George Washington to Barack Obama, and the presidents have nominated in all 29 cases,” Pence said, failing to mention his party refused to vote on Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. “But your party is actually openly advocating adding seats to the Supreme Court, which has had nine seats for 150 years, if you don’t get your way.”
“I’m so glad we went through a little history lesson. Let’s do that a little more,” Harris responded. “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. 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 will be able to select who will serve on the highest court of the land.’”
So, is that true?
Harris is correct that a seat became available 27 days before the election. And that Lincoln didn’t nominate anyone until after he won. But there is no evidence he thought the seat should be filled by the winner of the election. In fact, he had other motives for the delay.
The overarching effect of the delay is that it held Lincoln’s broad but shaky coalition of conservative and radical Republicans together. And it kept rivals like Chase in line. Chase, who had often been critical of Lincoln in the past, immediately began stumping for the president across the Midwest, sparking rumors of a secret deal, according to Kahn.
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