I cannot imagine a bigger metaphorical bomb detonating than the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We all knew it was going to happen eventually, the woman was 87 and had fought through cancer. She was tough but death comes for us all and the death of a Supreme Court Justice is like a time bomb in American politics, one that puts even more pressure on an election.
I understand that the 24-hour news cycle has shortened our attention spans but I want you all to try and remember back to 2016 when Justice Antonin Scalia died. President Barack Obama had nominated Judge Merrick Garland of the District of Columbia Circuit Appeals Court to fill the empty S.C.O.T.U.S. seat. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (who still serves in that same position today unfortunately) stirred up drama around the upcoming presidential election.
“Given that we are in the midst of the presidential election process, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and I believe that it is today the American people who are best-positioned to help make this important decision — rather than a lame-duck president whose priorities and policies they just rejected in the most-recent national election.”United States Senator Mitch McConnell (R, KT), The American People Should Have a Voice in the Selection of the Next Supreme Court Justice (2016), <https://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2016/2/the-american-people-should-have-a-voice-in-the-selection-of-the-next-supreme-court-justice>.
Senator McConnell delayed Judge Garland’s confirmation to the S.C.O.T.U.S. until the next election then immediately started the process when President Donald Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh (from the same court – DC’s Circuit Appeals Court) to the empty S.C.O.T.U.S. seat.
Fast forward four years and the nation finds itself in a similar situation – a dead Supreme Court Justice leaving eight Justices on the court and a tense election in the near future. Will Senator McConnell display some consistency with the new precedent he and his party set back in 2016?
“President Trump’s nominee for this vacancy will receive a vote on the floor of the Senate.”Senator McConnell, McConnell: ‘President Trump’s Nominee for this Vacancy will Receive a Vote on the Floor of the Senate (2020), <https://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2020/9/mcconnell-president-trump-s-nominee-for-this-vacancy-will-receive-a-vote-on-the-floor-of-the-senate>.
The senator justifies his decision by linking the precedent to the year 1888, the last time there was a S.C.O.T.U.S. vacancy while the White House and the Congress were held by different parties.
In 2016, the Democratic Party held the White House while the Republican Party held both houses of Congress. Today, the Republican Party holds the White House and only one house of Congress. One can still argue that we have a divided government so I’m skeptical about Senator McConnell’s reasoning.
I don’t understand why a specific political party needs to be in control of the national government in order for the Senate to proceed with S.C.O.T.U.S. nomination hearings but, given that was Senator McConnell’s reasoning four years ago, he should definitely uphold that same standard today. Otherwise, Mitch McConnell’s name is now synonymous with a “double standard.”