Republicans won’t admit they have to suppress spasms of joy every time Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a health problem, like a flare-up of the chronic gallbladder condition that briefly put her in the hospital this week. And I’m sure the more irenic of them would wish her a very long and healthy life — in retirement.
But make no mistake, if anything happens in this election year to bring to a close the SCOTUS career of any justice, the White House and Senate Republicans will initiate a pop-up appointment-and-confirmation drive that will be astonishing in its speed and efficiency. And far from being embarrassed by the hypocrisy of such a move as contrasted with their unwillingness to give Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland even a hearing in 2016, Republicans will for the most part exult in the proximity of this process to a presidential election. More than anything else, the goal of shaping SCOTUS is the glue that holds the GOP base together, and a brisk and successful confirmation fight over the violent objections of liberals will be regarded by Republicans as the ideal enthusiasm-generator, just as they believe it was in 2018 when the Kavanaugh battle supposedly saved their control of the Senate.
The president already has an ongoing SCOTUS vetting process and an updated list of ideologically safe prospects in place. After brief consultations with his allies in Congress and MAGA constituency groups, Trump will be ready to name a name very quickly.
As Burgess Everett notes, the confirmation machine is ready to go, too:
[I]f there is a surprise opening or retirement in the months before the presidential election, GOP senators plan to act on it, despite denying President Barack Obama a Supreme Court seat in an election year …
“If you thought the Kavanaugh hearing was contentious this would probably be that on steroids,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “Nevertheless, if the president makes a nomination then it’s our responsibility to take it up.”
McConnell made it very clear a year ago that he won’t let the hypocrisy charge get in his way:
“The Leader has noted on multiple occasions that not since the 1880s has a ‘vacancy created in a presidential year’ been ‘confirmed by the party opposite the occupant of the White House.’ His comments in Paducah yesterday simply repeated this. If there is a vacancy next year, because the White House and the Senate are the same party, we would vote to fill the slot,” McConnell’s staff director wrote in an email to reporters listing previous statements.
The normal expectation is that an opening might occur this summer after the Court’s current term ends. That’s when the last retirement, of Anthony Kennedy, occurred in 2018. But it’s clear Republicans really have no deadline:
In a brief interview, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declined to say there was a cut-off to when a new vacancy might be considered …
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said a Supreme Court opening represents the “ultimate hypothetical” — but one Republicans would be prepared to respond to whenever it occurs.
“There’s no cut off,” said Blunt, the No. 4 GOP leader.
The only discordant Republican voice in Politico’s take on the subject came from Lisa Murkowski, the one GOP senator to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation:
“You’re coming pretty close, though, to the presidential election,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the only Republican to oppose Kavanaugh. “That is something that you factor into these discussions about how we move forward.”
Yeah, you factor it in, you maybe write off Murkowski, and move right on.
We will hear, of course, that a preelection SCOTUS battle might endanger Republican control of the Senate by discomfiting those in close reelection battles. That would certainly be true of Susan Collins, who’s already in trouble for her crucial vote in favor of Kavanaugh, and possibly Cory Gardner from blue-leaning Colorado. But other vulnerable Republicans might well benefit more from a charged-up base than from an outraged opposition. And in any event, the Republican leadership and funding groups on which these pols depend won’t ultimately care: Getting to place an ideological ally into a lifetime position on a still closely divided Court is exactly why you want to control the Senate. Having that bird in the hand is worth risking a Democratic Senate after the deal goes down.
This craziest of election years could, believe it or not, get a whole lot crazier. The traditional announcement made at the beginning of each session of SCOTUS ends: “God save the United States and this Honorable Court!” Prayers are in order for the health and safety of them all, certainly until November 3.