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SC Senate policy stakes: Graham, Harrison clash on judicial philosophy, abortion, guns

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Graham Harrison

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison. 

The Supreme Court leapt to the forefront of South Carolina's competitive U.S. Senate race last month after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg opened a coveted new vacancy on the nine-member bench.

Confirming judicial nominees for a range of courts is one of the most lasting actions senators can take, and the winner of this year's race will have countless vacancies to fill over the next six years, including potentially on the high court.

This is the seventh installment of an eight-part series in The Post and Courier leading up to the election laying out the policy views of Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham and Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison on issues that matter most to South Carolina voters.

The responses to this candidate questionnaire have been edited and condensed for space and clarity.

Would you vote to confirm President Trump's most recent Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett?

Graham: I strongly support her nomination. I think Judge Amy Coney Barrett is one of the most qualified people ever to be nominated for the Supreme Court.

Harrison: People have begun voting in South Carolina and across the nation. I believe we should uphold the precedent set by Senator Graham and hold off on replacing a justice so close to a presidential election. I was raised to be a man of my word, something that means a lot to folks in South Carolina. Sen. Graham pledged twice in the last few years that he would not support filling such a lifetime vacancy in the final year of a presidential term. He even said "hold the tape," and "you can use my words against me." The words and promises of public leaders should mean something. But Lindsey Graham is someone whose convictions seem to change on a daily basis.

Knowing what you know about them and their records today, are there any sitting Supreme Court justices who were nominated by a president of the opposing party that you would vote to confirm?

Graham: I do not regret any of the votes I have cast for the Supreme Court. I am proud to have voted for Chief Justice Roberts as well as Associate Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh. I also voted in support of both of President Obama's nominees — Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — to the Supreme Court. While I disagreed with their judicial philosophies, I found both of them to be qualified for service on the court.

Harrison: When nominated under normal circumstances, it is the job of a U.S. senator to carefully assess the qualifications of every judicial nominee. Sen. Graham said he would support “any effort” to advance the president’s nominee — before the nominee was even named. That’s not providing advice and consent. And it violates multiple promises he made that he would not support a nomination this close to a presidential election. I would have supported the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, who was nominated by President George W. Bush. While I certainly don’t agree with every decision he makes, I consider him to be a qualified jurist who strives to be independent-minded and unbeholden by political factors.

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Would you ever support eliminating the filibuster or expanding the size of the Supreme Court?

Graham: I do not support eliminating the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes to end debate. I also opposed Majority Leader Harry Reid's elimination of the judicial filibuster in 2013. I told him it was a mistake as Democrats would not always be in control of the Senate. Today, a judge only needs 50 votes to be confirmed, not 60. I strongly oppose "court packing" or expanding the size of the Supreme Court from the nine members who currently serve. Liberal Democrats have pushed the idea of expanding the Court and "packing" it with liberal judges as a means to weaken the conservative majority currently on the court. As senator, I will vigorously oppose liberals' efforts to pack the court.

Harrison: I am not at this point supportive of either reform. I’m hesitant to drastically change structures and institutions that have lasted over generations, just for short-term political gains. We must carefully consider the long-term repercussions before making any such decisions.

Up to what stage in a pregnancy do you believe women should have the legal right to obtain an abortion?

Graham: I am a pro-life senator. Under Casey (U.S. Supreme Court ruling), the new test regarding state actions to limit abortion is whether or not the legislative proposal puts an undue burden on women. I believe legislative bodies should have the right to protect the unborn, and there is nothing more important in society than being able to speak on important issues such as when life begins and ends. That is why I have authored the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks — five months into pregnancy. There are only seven countries that allow wholesale abortions at the 20-week period, including China and North Korea. The United States should not be in that club. America is at her best when she's standing up for the least among us, and the sooner we pass this legislation into law, the better.

Harrison: Fundamentally, I believe that a decision this serious must be between a woman, her doctor and her God. Politicians shouldn’t involve themselves in the process.

What federal restrictions on gun sales that are not currently on the books do you think should be added? Are there any current restrictions that you think should be removed?

Graham: I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I have deep respect for firearms. In fact, I have been endorsed by leading pro-Second Amendment organizations in the country. I think we need to strengthen provisions dealing with Alice Boland-type situations. Ms. Boland had a long history of severe mental illnesses and had threatened to kill federal officials, including the President of the United States. Unfortunately, court records of her past mental illnesses did not make their way into the instant background check system for gun purchases. Because of this failure, Ms. Boland went to a Walterboro gun store, passed a background check, and was able to purchase a firearm legally. She then went to Ashley Hall School in Charleston, where she tried to shoot a school administrator. It was only by good fortune we avoided a terrible loss of life. I also support allowing states to have the option — if they choose to do so — of passing Extreme Risk Protection Orders. In a significant number of cases, shooters have exhibited dangerous and threatening behavior before carrying out a violent attack. This option would allow police to go to court to temporarily suspend gun ownership for individuals who are experiencing severe stress and have proven to be a threat to themselves and others. (The orders) should also contain robust due process rights to protect the rights of gun owners from being unfairly targeted.

Harrison: Like many South Carolinians, I appreciate our state’s hunting tradition and enjoy sporting clays, trap and skeet shooting. South Carolinians also value safe and responsible gun ownership, with eight in ten voters supporting universal background checks. It’s been five years since the Mother Emanuel shooting (in Charleston). Despite the shooter’s criminal history, his gun purchase was approved after three days because the loophole — now known as the “Charleston Loophole” — mandates clearance if the background check takes over 72 hours. The bipartisan bill to close the loophole passed the House last year, and sits on Lindsey’s desk in the Judiciary Committee. But he won’t even allow a discussion of this legislation. That’s not leadership, and it’s an insult to a community forever changed by this tragedy.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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