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Harris, Pence clash over Supreme Court nomination, court packing

PHOENIX – As Senate confirmation hearings for the open Supreme Court seat draw closer, Republican vice president Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris clashed Wednesday night over attempts to pack the court and confirm a new justice before the November election.

Despite calls to wait until after the results of the November election, the Senate will start the confirmation hearings Monday for Supreme Court justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who would succeed the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg if she’s confirmed.

Pence said that he and President Donald Trump are excited at the prospect of Barrett getting confirmed to the court. At least twice, he spoke directly to voters warning that Biden and Democrats would expand the court if they “don’t get their way” on blocking Barrett.

“Our hope is that in the hearing next week, unlike Justice (Brett) Kavanaugh received with treatment from you and others, we hope she gets a fair hearing, and we particularly hope that we don’t see the kind of attacks on her Christian faith that we saw before,” Biden said.

Harris, a Sen. from California, reaffirmed that Americans should vote in the presidential election before the government takes aim at the Supreme Court opening.

“Joe and I are very clear—as are the majority of the American people—we are 27 days before the decision about who will be the next president of the United States, and before when this conversation has come up, it’s been about election year or election time.”

Barrett’s selection to the court could tilt the court to overturn Roe v. Wade, a heavily debated landmark case that legalized abortions and gave a woman the right to choose without excessive government intervention in 1973.

“I will always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body,” Harris said. “It should be her decision and not that of Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.”

Harris seemingly missed an opportunity to remind Pence and the audience that the court’s Republican lean comes because the GOP-led Senate in 2016 refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee in the spring of 2016, carrying over a vacancy that Trump filled in 2017. She did, however, invoke Abraham Lincoln, who declined to make a Supreme Court nomination less than a month before his reelection.

The senator did manage to turn Pence’s “pack the court” attack around by noting that Trump’s slate of federal court appointees has been overwhelmingly white. And she underscored Democrats’ argument and public polling that suggests most voters think the Senate should wait until after the election to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.