In 2016, following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow a hearing or a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the vacant seat on the court, Merrick Garland. McConnell claimed that “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” using the pretext that it was an election year. But what would he do in 2020, the next presidential election year, if there were a vacancy on the high court then?
“Oh, we’d fill it.”
That’s what he told a Paducah Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky, after taking a sip of “what appeared to be iced tea” and giving a smarmy, self-satisfied smirk. The rationale given this time, because there is always one, came from his spokesman, David Popp. McConnell was justified in blocking Garland, he said because at the time the Senate and the White House were held by different parties. For good measure, and because they love the political play in D.C. (it’s why they call it a “playbook”), Politico digs up one of the handful of statements McConnell made in 2016 to justify his unprecedented actions. “You’d have to go back to 1888 when Grover Cleveland was in the White House to find the last time a vacancy created in a presidential year was confirmed by the party opposite the occupant of the White House. So this vacancy will not be filled this year,” McConnell then said. Of course, that was after he trotted out the completely made-up “Biden Rule” on court nominations in an election year.
Rather than going back to 1888, you could simply to go the Constitution, which lays out pretty clearly how this whole thing is supposed to work. McConnell will provide any justification he thinks people will go along with for his outrageously unconstitutional behavior, but he’s never coy about his intentions. He wasn’t coy on Tuesday, either. He’s packing the courts with Trump’s extremist and often unqualified nominees because that’s the way to have a “long-lasting positive impact,” because “everything else changes.”
“What can’t be undone is a lifetime appointment to a young man or woman who believes in the quaint notion that the job of the judge is to follow the law,” he said. “That’s the most important thing we’ve done in the country, which cannot be undone.” Of course, that’s just part of McConnell’s motivation. The other part is a deep and abiding contempt for President Obama, reflected in a boast he made to a Kentucky crowd in August 2016: “One of my proudest moments was when I told Obama, ‘You will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.'”