No politician better exemplifies the triumph of partisanship over duty to country than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). But unlike some of his more brazen colleagues, he often feels obliged to concoct reasons for his ruthless partisanship, unintentionally revealing that power is his only objective.
Consider his stunning rebuke of defeated former president Donald Trump — only after acquitting him in the second impeachment trial. He explained at the time: “Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty. … There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.”) Um, if that’s true, shouldn’t he have been impeached?
McConnell’s deep cynicism is even more evident when it comes to the Supreme Court. Only he could manufacture a rule that deprived President Barack Obama’s nominee of a meeting — let alone a hearing — to fill the seat vacated by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death months before the 2016 election. And only McConnell could then turn around and ram through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination after early voting had already begun in 2020.
He’s at it again. He conceded there is “no question” that President Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson, is qualified. So he’s voting for her? Don’t bet on it. And his reason for opposing her, in all likelihood, is nothing short of ridiculous: Liberal interest groups back her.
White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain weighed in on Twitter: “Just for the record, Judge Jackson’s supporters include the Fraternal Order of Police, conservative former federal judges Tom Griffith and Michael Luttig, a bipartisan group of former Supreme Court clerks, and the International Association of the Chiefs of Police.” It also includes 59 former Justice Department attorneys who have served in administrations of both parties and Republican lawyer William Burck.
Why don’t her conservative endorsements “count”? Why does McConnell think left-leaning groups have an inside track on how she’ll come down on cases? His rationale is obviously contrived.
Moreover, if we want to start nixing people based on who backs them, then McConnell never should have backed for president the guy who got a thumbs-up from Russian President Vladimir Putin and former KKK grand wizard David Duke.
There is nothing wrong with Jackson. She has a remarkable breadth of experience beyond her years on the D.C. circuit court (as a lawyer for a big firm, as a public defender and as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission). Her ethics are beyond reproach (hence her three previous Senate confirmations). Moreover, unlike many other Supreme Court partisan hacks, she has not acquired a record of invariably coming down on the side one political party favors.
Yet McConnell must oppose her with a daft excuse. Why? We can only guess at a couple of possibilities.
One explanation might be that the MAGA base is so soaked in white grievance that the prospect of a Black woman on the court would enrage them in an election year. For proof, just listen to right-wing provocateurs, including a couple of senators, who label her a beneficiary of affirmative action.
Another possible explanation is that McConnell thinks Democratic presidents should never get their choice on the court. That sure seems plausible given his perfectly consistent record in thwarting the appointments of Obama and Biden while enabling Republican nominees. This is the gob-smacking triumph of partisanship that never permits the other side to “win.” It defies the spirit of democracy, in which the rules apply to everyone equally, losers allow winners to govern, and voters get to see the results of their choices. The “we never lose” mentality is the same poisonous view that leads to voter suppression and the subversion of elections.
Worse, it appears McConnell has become comfortable with the idea that judges are representatives of his “side.” Republicans pick justices such as Barrett, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh not because they adhere to precedent, judicial restraint or “originalism,” but because they are guaranteed to give the right wing what it wants (e.g., striking down gun restrictions, criminalizing abortion, hamstringing regulatory agencies, allowing discrimination in the name of religious liberty) by whatever procedural contrivance or legal sophistry necessary. How is it that right-wing justices almost invariably come down in ways that ideologically line up with the party, the interest groups and the senators who put them there?
There is no better evidence of the need for judicial term limits for the Supreme Court than the abject cynicism and hyper-partisanship that McConnell has helped normalize. If Republicans think their nominees are just partisan hacks for their team whose decisions are preordained, justices should not have lifetime tenure. Let each president have a few. And, for goodness’ sake, let’s put an end to the flagrant hypocrisy and disingenuous excuses McConnell consistently displays in confirmation proceedings.
Image Credits: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) shakes hands with Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson on March 2. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)