FACT CHECK: Harris on Abraham Lincoln
During Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate, Democratic Nominee Kamala Harris attempted to give Vice President Mike Pence a history lesson on Supreme Court nominations. Sadly, her lesson was missing some key facts about former President Abraham Lincoln.
When pressed on whether she and former Vice President Joe Biden would support court packing, Harris tried to one up Pence.
“Your party is actually openly advocating, adding seats to the Supreme Court, which has had nine seats for 150 years,” said Pence. “Now you’ve refused to answer the question and Joe Biden has refused to answer the question. I think the American people would really like to know, if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States, are you and Joe Biden, if somehow you win this election, going to pack the Supreme Court to get your way?”
Harris responded that she was glad Pence gave her a history lesson and said “let’s do that a little more.”
“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 and the highest court of our land,” Harris said.
She was referring to the election of 1864 where Lincoln delayed nominating a replacement to the Supreme Court after the death of Chief Justice Roger Taney. Her claim that Lincoln did so to allow the American people to vote, however, is false.
It’s true that Lincoln didn’t send a nomination to the Senate until after his reelection but that’s largely because the Senate was not in session at the time which would have made it difficult for confirmation hearings to take place. Even with that in mind, Lincoln didn’t have the purest motives for delaying his nomination.
“As ever, Lincoln was the shrewd politician and in October of 1864 he saw no profit in alienating any of the factions of his political support by making a selection before the election,” President Lincoln’s Cottage said. The group works to preserve Lincoln’s legacy.
With the Civil War still ongoing, Lincoln needed to ensure that he had the full support of his party going into his own reelection. He used the Supreme Court vacancy to entice several of the interested candidates to campaign on his behalf, most importantly the eventual nominee Salmon Chase.
Chase was an extremely popular senator and the former governor of Ohio. He and Lincoln did not get along and Lincoln could not afford to have Chase campaign against him.
Lincoln’s political maneuvering was successful. Chase hit the campaign trail in the Midwest for him and helped deliver a decisive victory for the president in November. Lincoln would go on to appoint Chase to the Supreme Court on December 6, 1864. The Senate confirmed him in one day.
So, Kamala Harris is correct that Abraham Lincoln didn’t appoint a replacement to the Supreme Court prior to the election in 1864 but her reasoning is 100% false. There is no record of Lincoln ever saying he held the nomination because “it was the right thing to do.” In fact, history clearly paints a much different picture.
PHOTO: Alex Wong/Getty Images
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