Sometimes it feels as if politics in 2021 is all about demonstrating that most of the traditional Beltway assumptions about bipartisanship should be discarded. None is so obsolete as the idea that the Senate will happily endorse any Supreme Court nominee who has the right on-paper credentials. In fact, Supreme Court confirmation decisions are at least as savagely partisan as everything else in politics these days, and the supposedly traditionalist Republican Party has led the way to this state of affairs, however much it tries to blame the development on what Democrats did to Reagan nominee Robert Bork a third of a century ago.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who can barely stop chortling about his successful refusal of a confirmation vote or even a hearing to Obama nominee (and now attorney general) Merrick Garland nine months before the 2016 election, just took the next step toward admitting that partisanship is the only qualification for the Supreme Court if he has anything to say about it. As The Hill reports:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled Monday that Republicans, if they win back control of the upper chamber, wouldn’t advance a Supreme Court nominee if a vacancy occurred in 2024, the year of the next presidential election.
“I think it’s highly unlikely — in fact, no, I don’t think either party, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election,” McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt.
Anyone surprised by this statement really hasn’t been paying attention. Yes, many accused McConnell of hypocrisy when he rushed through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation very late in the 2020 election cycle. But years earlier, McConnell had blithely switched from claiming any confirmation in a presidential election year was tainted to the very different argument that the Senate and the White House needed to be in the same hands to make this sort of mid-election movement on the Supreme Court feasible.
None of this makes a great deal of sense as a bipartisan principle, but McConnell doesn’t care what I think about it, and for the moment, he’s just repeating the same mantra. Where he’s going next is pretty clear, though:
McConnell declined to say what Republicans would do if a justice stepped down in mid-2023 and Republicans controlled the Senate.
“We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell said, asked by Hewitt if the nominee would get a fair shot.
You can translate that from McConnell speak as “No!” Mark Joseph Stern probably goes too far with this exasperated prophecy:
There may be a toddler right now who will live to see this now-implausible return to bipartisanship or deference to the president on Supreme Court nominations, but Stern is right that it won’t be any time soon. And without question, this should be a major Democratic campaign talking point as the party fights to hold on to the Senate in the 2022 midterms.