Editorial: Insist GOP Senate follow court protocol it invented
Well, look who’s in a great big hurry to fill a newly announced Supreme Court vacancy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who put President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee on ice for nearly a year in 2016, is all set to fast-track President Donald Trump’s nominee — whoever it may be — in the wake of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement that he will retire.
Hold your horses, Mitch.
After all, the American people haven’t had a chance to weigh in. And as you argued so forcefully just two years ago, a decision as important as a Supreme Court vacancy, coming so close to a federal election, shouldn’t be made absent voter input.
Actually, the previous vacancy wasn’t all that near an election. Conservative powerhouse Antonin Scalia died on Feb. 13, 2016 — nearly nine full months before Election Day. Democrat Obama nominated centrist Merrick Garland about a month later, on March 16.
That gave the Republican-led Senate plenty of time to meet with Garland, schedule formal hearings and hold an up-or-down vote. But no such actions ever took place. McConnell stonewalled. Members of the party that has been harping on civility of late wouldn’t even give Garland the courtesy of meeting with him.
Having instituted such protocols, Republicans must now adhere to them. By this time in 2016, Obama’s nomination was more than 100 days old. Surely if that choice were too close to Election Day, Trump’s eventual selection will likewise preclude Senate action this year.
This wouldn’t be a concern, of course, had McConnell, after breaking precedent and refusing to allow a Supreme Court nominee to be voted upon, had not then broken a second long-heralded Senate tradition and done away with the judicial filibuster for high court nominees.
Until Trump’s 2017 nomination of conservative Neil Gorsuch, 60 votes were needed to break a judicial filibuster and bring a Supreme Court nomination to the floor. Not anymore.
McConnell, with the help of dependable party-over-country minions like Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, voted to do away with the 60-vote threshold. (To give him his due, Toomey at least met with Garland; but mostly to tell him he wouldn’t be receiving a Senate vote.)
So now that minority parties have been denied a historically important tool to provide at least some say in Supreme Court nominations, it is all the more important that action on any nominee wait until a new Senate is voted on and seated. A third of the Senate will be up for grabs this fall, and the current 51-49 GOP edge could easily change.
Of course, we expect McConnell to do no such thing. He is a craven partisan who gives not a fig about that part of “the American people” who do not share his beliefs.
Senate Democrats — though they are rightly throwing McConnell’s 2016 words back in his face — have few legitimate legislative tools at their disposal and, as they demonstrated two years ago, neither the creativity nor the spine to stand up to GOP steamrolling.
But with Sen. John McCain ailing back home in Arizona following a cancer diagnosis, Republicans hold just 50 Senate votes. That means that Trump’s few critics in the Senate — like outgoing Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona or Bob Corker of Tennessee; even unpredictable Rand Paul of Kentucky — find themselves in a position to do more than criticize wanly or tweet ineffectually.
They can stand up for the principals of fair governance, political polity and what the Senate once called regular order by withholding their support of any and all potential Supreme Court nominees for the rest of the year.
It is they who can rise above the hypocrisy of McConnell, the tantrums of Trump, and the mob mentality that has overtaken politics, and give true voice to the American people as the most consequential Supreme Court selection in generations is considered.
The Senate should follow the protocol McConnell & Co. bent the rules to establish in 2016. But it won’t — unless one brave Republican senator takes a stand.