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VERIFY: Why Abraham Lincoln chose not to appoint a Supreme Court justice during 1864 election

Sen. Kamala Harris claimed that President Lincoln chose not to nominate a Supreme Court justice until after the election because he wanted the people to vote.

During the vice presidential debate on Wednesday night, California Sen. Kamala Harris made a historical claim:

"In 1864," she said. "Abraham Lincoln was up for reelection. And it was 27 days before the election. And a seat became open on the United States Supreme Court. 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.'"

THE QUESTION: 


Did President Abraham Lincoln choose not to nominate a Supreme Court justice during the 1864 election because “the American people deserve to make the decision about who will be the next president of the United States?”

THE ANSWER:


There is no evidence that Lincoln ever said this or that his reasons for delaying a Supreme Court nomination had anything to do with the election at hand.

WHAT WE FOUND:

Senate records show that there was a Supreme Court vacancy during the 1864 election. 

Chief Justice Roger Taney died in October, just weeks before the vote.

And Lincoln didn’t nominate a replacement until December, after the election.

Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this March 4, 1861file photo made from a painting, Abraham Lincoln takes the oath of office as the 16th president of the United States administered by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. As stirring as his words in the Gettysburg Address, perhaps equally jarring are Abraham Lincoln's 1862 remarks to a White House audience of free blacks, urging them to leave the U.S. and settle in Central America. (AP Photo)

But - he never said anything about letting the American people decide through the election.

Actually, in 1864, Congress was in a recess when Taney died and during the election. 

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So even if Lincoln had nominated a replacement, they wouldn’t have been able to be confirmed until December when the Senate was back.

Bottom line:

We don’t know why exactly Lincoln decided to wait on nominating a justice - and the claim that he did it to let voters decide needs evidence. 

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