(Bloomberg) -- Some Republicans are promising a pitched fight over President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, a battle that will mean more for midterm election campaigns than it will for deciding who replaces Justice Stephen Breyer on the bench.

The outcome, which will be determined on a simple-majority vote, is all but assured if Democrats stay as united on Biden’s Supreme Court pick as they have been on his nominees for lower courts.

But the hearings for Biden’s eventual nominee are set to become a proxy fight for the high-stakes battle for control of Congress in the November election.

“There is no greater issue to the Republican base than the Supreme Court,” said Kyle Plotkin, a GOP strategist and former chief of staff to Missouri Republican Josh Hawley. “It would be political malpractice if Republicans let this nomination go through without a fight.”

In recent years, election-year fights over judges have tended to help Republicans charge up the anti-abortion voters in their party’s base, something Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell noted in 2018 when the party kept Senate control after the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

But that was before the conservative court majority cemented under President Donald Trump began to reflect the divisions in the nation on hot-button issues that are before the court this year or will be soon, including the status of the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion rights, the validity of the Affordable Care Act, and voting and civil rights.

“We can’t risk losing yet another seat on the high court to the radical, anti-democracy right,” Democratic Representative Mondaire Jones, a New York progressive, said in a statement. Biden should nominate “someone who is not hostile to the fundamental right to vote, who respects precedents like Roe v. Wade, who believes in the science of vaccines, and who respects the constitutional prerogatives of Congress.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday promised to move quickly on Biden’s nominee. A person familiar with his thinking said he wants to see a nominee confirmed on a timetable similar to that Republicans used to confirm Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett. She was nominated on Sept. 26, 2020 and confirmed just 30 days later.

“We want to move quickly,” he told reporters in New York. 

The nomination presents a political opportunity for Democrats, who have suffered blistering disappointments in their attempts to clear Biden’s economic agenda and broad voting rights legislation. Republicans are seen as likely to retake control of the House and possibly the Senate in the November elections, amid Biden’s abysmal approval numbers, rising inflation, and the very public discord among Democrats’ progressive and moderate wings.

To succeed, Schumer will have to hold together the fragile Democratic voting coalition in the 50-50 Senate through what’s expected to be an onslaught of attacks on the nominee from Republicans and their outside allies.

Unity on Judges

While moderate Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have held up Biden’s economic agenda and thwarted Democrats’ drive to overhaul voting rights, they’ve joined in unanimous Democratic support for Biden’s nominees to lower courts.

“I take my constitutional responsibility to advise and consent on a nominee to the Supreme Court very seriously,” Manchin said in a statement. “I look forward to meeting with and evaluating the qualifications of President Biden’s nominee to fill this Supreme Court vacancy.”

Republicans have broadly opposed Biden’s court picks, but some have drawn GOP support.

Biden has pledged to appoint the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. One of the leading candidates, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, won Senate confirmation last June to the powerful federal appeals court in Washington on a 53-44 vote.

Three GOP senators supported Jackson: Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Graham, who supported President Barack Obama’s first two Supreme Court nominees, has not signaled how he would vote on a Biden Supreme Court pick.

“If all Democrats hang together – which I expect they will – they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support,” Graham said in a statement. “Elections have consequences, and that is most evident when it comes to fulfilling vacancies on the Supreme Court.”

The situation is a result of the increasingly rancorous partisanship surrounding judicial nominations in the last decade. In 2013, the Senate under Majority Leader Harry Reid jettisoned the filibuster rule for presidential nominees other than the Supreme Court as Republicans repeatedly blocked Obama’s picks.

The 60-vote threshold required to advance Supreme Court nominees remained intact until 2017, when Democrats filibustered Trump’s first nominee to the high court, Neil Gorsuch. The Senate, then under Republican control, voted to make Supreme Court nominations subject to a simple majority.

That allowed Gorsuch to be confirmed 54-45. Trump’s second nominee, Kavanaugh, was confirmed by an even narrower 50-48 vote.

The stakes are lower than in the last several confirmation battles. Replacing Breyer with another liberal justice would not change the balance of power on the court, where conservative justices now hold a 6-3 majority. 

Although Breyer is likely to remain on the court through the end of its term in June and until a successor is confirmed, the timing of his retirement will work in Democrats’ favor.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, who led a Republican blockade of Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, said last year that he’d be “highly unlikely” to let Biden fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2024 if the GOP wins back the Senate in the November election. He refused to say what he would do if the vacancy occurred in 2023.

But with Democrats currently in control and the filibuster for high court nominees abolished, McConnell’s options for the Breyer seat are limited.

McConnell, speaking Wednesday at an event in his home state of Kentucky, declined to say what Republicans would do, saying Breyer hasn’t formally announced his retirement yet.

Still, some Republicans are signaling they will put up a fight.

GOP Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said a majority of the country has “lost confidence” in Biden’s leadership.

“I will not stand by as President Biden attempts to fill our courts with activist judges who are beholden to progressive interests,” she said in a statement.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.