Back when sanity or its approximation prevailed, another failed CEO occupied the executive mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW with predictably disastrous results. George W. Bush throughout eight long years submitted to Congress lists compiled by others smarter than he of young judicial activists hungry for lifetime federal court gigs. A handful perjured themselves on the stand, with others refusing to supply straight answers on the mundane topic of settled law. That’s stare decisis to you. Short for Roe v. Wade. But, hey, a little obfuscation under oath is expected when interviewing job applicants.
Democrats, then in the Senate wasteland, utilized the awesome power of the filibuster sparingly but effectively to upend the Bush administration’s most odious picks. Their distinguished colleagues across the aisle didn’t sign onto a political strategy of having to whip 60 votes, and they decided against playing along. Too many malleable party loyalists waited in queue for their shot at the big time.
GOP leadership threatened what any cornered rat would do: blow up the filibuster. The Doomsday Machine. Wait, that’s “Strangelove.” Nuclear Option.
Fearing deadly fallout on everyone as the result of partly restoring majority rule to the upper chamber, the so-called Gang of Idiots — Sen. John McCain, of course, and 13 other elephants and donkeys — huddled under the majestic Capitol dome in 2005 to hammer out an emergency pact. With a bipartisan handshake, Bush would lose three ultraconservative kooks and seat a few less execrable hacks. Filibuster preserved, but American jurisprudence had to swallow Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor and Priscilla Owen.
Rogers Brown retired five years ago. Pryor and Owen snagged the top seats in their respective appeals courts, where they can inflict constitutional damage till death do they depart. Somebody was bound to lose whichever way that deal went down.
Skip to 2009. The handsome Black dude moved into town with his accomplished wife and cute kids. Senate Republicans exploited their minority status and halted movement on more than 100 of Barack Obama’s nominees. Minority Leader Addison Mitchell McConnell revealed a novel interpretation of that dusty verbiage about advice and consent. Some might say nuanced. It went like this: “Our advice is go fuck yourself; we’ll never surrender our consent.”
Picture a drawling Kentucky patrician in an ice cream-colored suit sipping his mint julep and sporting a Sons of the Lost Cause lapel pin.
Four years of legislative terrorism by the opposition party disgusted Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid enough to eighty-six the filibuster in 2013 for most presidential nominees. That included lower court judges. Reid earned enduring acrimony for weakening a fetid relic of Jim Crow, which the party of Lincoln had used and continues to abuse to turn plowshares into swords. In death last December, the scrappy old pugilist took blows over his earlier decision. He remained steadfastly unapologetic until the end.
McConnell, as ruthless a son of a bitch as ever darkened the Senate halls — and he has serious competition — claimed the leadership gavel less than two years later. He had lobbed opening salvos in the war on American democracy as minority leader to scant resistance. His fellow citizens mostly shrugged, either totally oblivious or believing one impasse after another to be Senate business as usual. That misjudgment emboldened McConnell to probe the nation’s civilian defenses further.
Supreme ruler of Senate rules since 2015, McConnell executed his most audacious maneuver yet. He invented a precedent that magically denied any consideration of Obama’s replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia, whose sudden death had created a vacancy in the final year of the Obama presidency. Eight justices soldiered on rendering decisions while McConnell beseeched his lily white Maker to deliver a Republican win in the 2016 general election. Anyone posing as a Republican would suffice, even a hulking mutant who wears a bulky overcoat in summer.
Howls from progressive groups erupted and protest rallies were organized, but barring sustained nonviolent direct action the rabid right got what it bought.
McConnell is cunning as Beelzebub, so he anticipated combative challenges to Donald Trump’s first ideologically extreme Supreme Court aspirant. Without hesitation, the calculating tactician finished off the judicial filibuster. One bold act and amazing good luck later in the Trump years ushered in the far right’s dream court. Paging Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Coney Barrett.
McConnell’s betrayal smacks of the rankest opportunism. He spared no ethics in distributing black robes to almost all of Team Trump’s reactionary jurists. Let’s be clear. A Republican-controlled Senate would have carved out an exception to the filibuster regardless of Harry Reid. The showdown in 2005 was neither bluff nor bargaining chip. An amoral chiseler retired a well-worn tool he had wielded maliciously because it suited his purpose at that precise moment. Sixty votes stood between McConnell and a toxic ambition to reshape the High Court in his twisted image, and he wouldn’t allow it.
I’ll break it to you slowly. Mitch McConnell always brings a howitzer to a fistfight. This nation on its present political and intellectual spiral, voters put Dear Leaders Trump (or his neofascist successor) and McConnell in charge in 2025. The legislative filibuster dies bad death in every scenario. These cancerous growths will shovel nakedly regressive bills through to the Resolute desk, and no 60-vote threshold will still be around to stop them.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.