With almost a year left in his term, President Obama nominated a respected, moderate federal judge, Merrick Garland, 63, to fill the Supreme Court seat of Antonin Scalia, who died suddenly in February of last year. The then-president was doing his constitutional duty, and in Garland he chose an experienced judge who was hardly a liberal ideologue and clearly qualified for membership on the high court.
But Garland had two problems, neither of which had anything to do with his qualifications: He was an Obama nominee, and he was not an ultraconservative in the mold of Scalia.
Senate Republicans never gave him a hearing on the preposterous argument that the next president should choose Scalia’s replacement, thus giving the American people a voice in the pick, because they’d signal their preferences through their vote for president.
Now, in changing the Senate rules to prevent a filibuster of President Trump’s nominee for the court, conservative federal Judge Neil Gorsuch, the GOP guarantees Gorsuch a seat. And, Republican senators in using the “nuclear option” of a majority-only requirement for approval, reject the very logic they used against Garland, that the people through their votes would let it be known what kind of justice they wanted. By that logic, the people wanted Garland, because three million more of them voted against President Trump than for him.
This is a sorry day indeed for democracy, and Mitch McConnell, the hard-line Republican leader from Kentucky who signaled his ardent dislike for President Obama from the beginning of his two terms as the elected president of the United States, offers ridiculous logic for his maneuver. He said Democrats kept “raising the stakes and moving the goalposts” and that “we need to restore the norms of the Senate.” What?
The “norms” would have required a vote on Garland; the “norms” would have left in place the requirement that a nominee have 60 votes to avoid filibuster. McConnell is the one who “moved the goalposts,” and he knows it.
So Trump will have his justice in Gorsuch, 49, who absent the Garland fiasco might be more easily accepted by Democrats, as the party not in the White House generally respects the choice of the elected president, even if the president’s choice would not be that of the other party.
Regardless of his personal character, which is strong, Gorsuch will take his seat under a cloud Republicans seeded. They’ve set up a scenario wherein future presidents who may not be to their liking can nominate liberal ideologues Republicans may despise, but the simple majority required for confirmation will allow that future president to do as he or she wishes without the advice of the Senate.
Gorsuch wins. Almost everyone else, and most certainly the credibility of the Senate leadership, loses.