Last night, less than three days after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s sudden death, a gleeful Lindsey Graham announced that Republican senators had the votes to replace her. “We’ve got the votes to confirm Justice Ginsburg’s replacement before the election,” he said on Fox News. “We’re going to move forward in the committee, we’re going to report the nomination out of the committee to the floor of the United States Senate so we can vote before the election.”
Ten years ago, when the House of Representatives passed the Affordable Care Act, the main Republican point of contention was that the process had moved too fast. Every Republican talking point attacking the bill denounced the method of its passage as having been “rammed through” or “jammed down our throats” at “lightning speed.” (The law was, in fact, crafted over the span of nearly a year and entailed dozens of hours of public testimony.)
A secondary point of outrage was that, even though 60 senators had passed it, the Senate used a 50-vote reconciliation bill to smooth out differences between the two bills. The notion that such a large social change would be implemented without minority party buy-in added to the indignation.
Here, the upper chamber has decided to approve President Trump’s nominee for a lifetime appointment on a court that — unlike courts in many other countries — has supreme power of judicial review. Unlike a health-care law, which can be repealed if people don’t like it, it is impossible to recall a confirmed Supreme Court justice barring a constitutional amendment. The Senate has held zero hearings to assess the nominee’s fitness, independence, or viewpoint.
Most comically, they have rounded up the votes without even knowing the justice’s identity. If you remember the Obamacare debate, Nancy Pelosi said, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it — away from the fog of the controversy.” Pelosi was actually trying to say that Republican distortions had made it impossible for Americans to understand what the law actually did, and once they saw it in action, they would approve of it. (She was right about that.) They distorted the quote, always excising the last clause, to imply she was trying to smuggle details into law before Congress could learn what the law did.
But here, Republican senators have done exactly that! They have secured 50 votes to confirm a justice-to-be-named-later to a lifetime appointment — one that, along with four like-minded colleagues, confers power to strike down any law she wishes for any reason she claims. They’re confirming the justice and then finding out who she is.
In a sense this is all so obvious it hardly bears stating. Of course the process complaints against Obamacare were disingenuous. If the Trump era has proven anything, it’s that every single complaint about behavior norms or process that Republicans threw at Barack Obama was disingenuous. He’s rushing bills into law too quickly! He’s arrogant! He’s using executive power! Cozying up with dictators! Disparaging American exceptionalism! Crony capitalism! Using a personal email address! Etc., etc.
If Democrats win control of government, Republicans will be back to complaining about process again. In particular, they will demand everything be done slowly and deliberately, and there will not be a process slow and deliberate enough to satisfy them. But if the confirmation of the as-yet-unnamed third Trump Supreme Court justice demonstrates anything at all, it’s how utterly disingenuous those claims about rushing through big changes without debate or bipartisan support really are.