FACT CHECK: Viral Image Claims There Have Been 29 Supreme Court Vacancies ‘Within 3 Months Of A Presidential Election’

Varun Hukeri | General Assignment & Analysis Reporter

An image shared on Facebook over 500 times claims there has been an opening on the Supreme Court 29 times “within 3 months of a Presidential election.”

Verdict: False

Supreme Court and Senate records since 1789 show that there have been 29 vacancies during an election year or prior to inauguration, but only four of those vacancies, including that for Ginsburg’s seat, occurred within three months of a presidential election.

Fact Check:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away Sept. 18, resulting in a vacancy on the Supreme Court 46 days before the 2020 presidential election. President Donald Trump vowed to swear in Ginsburg’s successor “without delay” in a tweet Sept. 19 and, according to CNN, promised to nominate a woman. (RELATED: Was Ruth Bader Ginsburg Nominated And Confirmed 43 Days Before An Election?)

Amid the debate over filling the Supreme Court vacancy before the November election, social media users have shared an image that reads, “Fact: 22 Presidents, and 29 times, there has been an opening on the Supreme Court within 3 months of a Presidential election. All 29 times, the President of the United States has made a nomination.” The post’s claim, however, is incorrect.

The shortest Supreme Court vacancy before an election occurred when Chief Justice Robert Taney died Oct. 12, 1864 with 27 days before the 1864 presidential election, according to The New York Times. President Abraham Lincoln nominated Salmon Chase as his successor Dec. 6, 1864, and he was sworn into office Dec. 15 that year, the Supreme Court website shows. Ginsburg’s vacancy is the second closest to have occurred before an election, per The New York Times.

Only two other Supreme Court seats were vacated within three months of a presidential election. Justice Sherman Minton retired Oct. 15, 1956 with 22 days before the 1956 presidential election, per the Supreme Court Historical Society. The death of Justice Robert Trimble on Aug. 25, 1828 opened up a Supreme Court seat with 67 days before the first day of the 1828 presidential election, per Oyez.

Check Your Fact reviewed the Senate’s list of all Supreme Court nominations since 1789 and, at the time of publication, found only one instance of a nomination taking place within three months of a presidential election. President Millard Fillmore unsuccessfully nominated Edward Bradford to the Supreme Court 78 days before the 1852 presidential election, though the seat opened up after Justice John McKinley died July 19, 1852, more than three months before the election.

Varun Hukeri

General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
Follow Varun on Twitter