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Despite 2016 vow, Lindsey Graham supports Trump choosing Ruth Bader Ginsburg's successor

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Supreme Court Ginsburg

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks on Feb. 10, 2020, during a discussion on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. Ginsburg died Sept. 18, 2020. File/Patrick Semansky/AP

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Saturday that he'd reverse course on a 2016 declaration that the Senate shouldn't fill a Supreme Court seat during an election year.

After Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death Friday, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee tweeted Saturday he will support President Donald Trump's drive to fill her bench seat immediately, citing Democrats' opposition to Justice Brett Kavanaugh's appointment and support of a simple majority vote for Circuit Court nominees.

"I want you to use my words against me," Graham, R-S.C., said in 2016, when Senate Republicans blocked then-President Barack Obama's nomination.

"If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, 'Let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination,'" he said at the time.

Graham has said the bitter battle over Kavanaugh's nomination had changed his mind.

He signaled he backs Trump making a nomination soon. "I fully understand where President @realDonaldTrump is coming from," Graham tweeted.

Graham additionally noted how the vacancy plays into his re-election versus the challenge from Democrat Jaime Harrison.

"I know Jaime Harrison — who opposed the Kavanaugh nomination and joined the mob in the destruction of this fine man — will oppose ANY Trump nominee," he said. "I hope the people of South Carolina know that as well."

Support for Trump to move was widespread among South Carolina Republicans. Gov. Henry McMaster on Saturday said Ginsburg's legacy on the Supreme Court bench was powerful, but told The Post and Courier the Senate must move rapidly in confirming her successor.

"I think they should move as quickly as possible," McMaster said. "We need to have a full court. It just depends on the will of the Senate. If they're willing to go forward, they should and if it doesn't, well, that answers that question."

Among Ginsburg’s dying wishes was a request that her replacement be nominated by the next president, which others focused upon Saturday.

“The best way to honor her legacy and all the work that she did and the impact that she had on this country is to honor her dying wish,” said state Sen. Mia McLeod, D-Richland. “I’ve felt myself getting even more upset at the level of hypocrisy that seems to be the new norm for Sen. Graham.”

The shift in tones struck William Hubbard, the dean for the University of South Carolina School of Law, who's met Ginsburg several times. She and Justice Antonin Scalia were each approved across party lines, he said, in a time where politicians recognized their intelligence and fairness.

Ginsburg knew how to assert herself even when her opinions wouldn’t be immediately followed, said Joe Seiner, an employment law professor at USC. He called her one of the most effective dissenters in the bench’s history.

“By creating this culture, not through law but through her words, (she advocated) saying something even if you don’t believe your voice is going to be heard, because you’re still making an impact,” Seiner said.

Ginsburg’s successes were key for attorney Malissa Burnette, whose legal battle to allow women to attend The Citadel ended in sudden victory when Ginsburg penned a majority opinion striking down the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy.

Years later, Ginsburg would swear Burnette in as a member of the Supreme Court bar — one of the most memorable moments of Burnette’s life, she said.

Catherine Templeton, of Mount Pleasant, an attorney and previous GOP candidate for governor, said she appreciated Ginsburg's opinions but respected that she rose above gender in her views.  

“It wasn’t ‘I am woman, hear me roar.’ It was ‘I am competent and I should be at the table,’ ” Templeton said. 

Ginsburg's quiet determination, and her cooperative camaraderie, struck Templeton in her work with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, through whom she met Ginsburg on several occasions.

Ginsburg's civility, even as she strongly and publicly disagreed with her colleagues' judgments, is a key lesson for new attorneys, said Charleston School of Law Dean Larry Cunningham.

She was a role model not just as a judge but as an attorney, he said, and will continue to inspire the next generations of Palmetto State legal minds.

Adam Benson contributed to this report.

Reach Sara Coello at 843-937-5705 and follow her on Twitter @smlcoello.

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