There was an odd burst of soul-searching over SCOTUS nominations among Senate Democrats this week, coincidentally at a moment when they were eager to secure bipartisan support for one of their own nominees.
Why, a cynic might conclude that they only pretended to be remorseful in hopes of buttering up Republican centrists like Collins, Romney, and Murkowski.
Here was Dick Durbin making a surprising admission a few days ago:
DURBIN: "I'm gonna be first to admit, as I look back in history, there are things that should have been handled better when Republican [SCOTUS] nominees were before us." pic.twitter.com/CVU83xFEIJ
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) April 6, 2022
Accusing a Republican nominee of gang rape on a Michael Avenatti client’s say-so probably could have been “handled better,” I agree.
I thought Durbin’s self-reproach was a one-off until I watched this clip of Chris Coons making a similar point. He *almost* — but not quite — says he regrets voting against Gorsuch in 2017, which he should. One could object to Kavanaugh because of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against him, and one could object to Barrett being rushed through with record speed before the 2020 election. But there was no good reason to oppose Gorsuch’s nomination. He was eminently qualified and Democrats didn’t lay a glove on him during his confirmation hearings. Insisting on filibustering him was a pure revenge play for McConnell’s decision to roadblock Merrick Garland’s nomination a year earlier.
Coons should have copped to that here. Instead, strangely, he validates GOP objections to Ketanji Brown Jackson by admitting that he thinks judicial philosophy is a sound reason to oppose a nominee.
"I will own that I'm a part of this problem."
Sen. @ChrisCoons acknowledges that his vote against Justice Neil Gorsuch, an "eminently qualified" Supreme Court nominee put forward by President #Trump, contributed to the increased polarization of the confirmation process. pic.twitter.com/dSUKo9iTTj
— Firing Line with Margaret Hoover (@FiringLineShow) April 8, 2022
He went on to vote against Kavanaugh and Barrett, and presumably will vote against any other Republican SCOTUS nominee he encounters. Democrats may regret the poisonous atmosphere around SCOTUS confirmations but they don’t regret it so much that they’re willing to do anything about it. Certainly not if they represent a state as blue as Coons’s, where he might plausibly face a primary challenge if he veers too far to the center.
I mean, really. How seriously are we supposed to take these people?
Biden thanks GOP senators who voted to confirm Jackson, saying they deserve "enormous credit."
He calls Collins and Murkowski women of integrity.
"Mitt Romney, whose dad stood up like he did — his dad stood up and made these decisions on civil rights."
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) April 8, 2022
The guy who once told a black audience that Mitt Romney wants to “put y’all back in chains” is now praising him for standing up for racial progress?
These are crocodile tears from the Democrats, one and all. They’re willing to be introspective statesmen reaching out to the other side right up until the moment they stand to lose something by doing so, at which point the daggers come out. I have many criticisms of the Trump-era GOP but at least they don’t waste our time with patently insincere calls for comity and bipartisanship.
Speaking of SCOTUS confirmations and ruthlessness, an interesting exchange from yesterday:
Mitch McConnell repeatedly declines to answer @jonathanvswan whether he would hold hearings if a Supreme Court seat opens next year and Republicans take the Senate:
• "I'm suggesting that I'm not going to answer your question."
• "I choose not to answer the question." pic.twitter.com/Ezi6I3MEmH
— Axios (@axios) April 7, 2022
The “Merrick Garland rule” from 2016 is supposed to apply only in election years. McConnell’s rationale at the time for blocking Garland was that if the president belongs to one party and the Senate is controlled by the other *and an election is near*, a SCOTUS vacancy should be held open so that the voting public can decide which party should fill that vacancy. Jonathan Swan presented the obvious hypothetical in response to that: What if it’s not an election year but the year before an election year?
If the Garland rule applies then too, it means no Court vacancy will be filled going forward whenever the White House and the Senate are controlled by different parties. Vacancies could be held open for four years — or longer. The country can’t function that way.
My guess is that a Republican Senate would hold hearings on a Biden nominee if a vacancy opened in 2023 so long as that vacancy is a seat currently occupied by a Democrat, i.e. Sotomayor or Kagan. If either left the Court such that confirming their replacement wouldn’t alter the ideological balance of power, the GOP might agree to move forward if only to avoid setting a precedent that Dems would use against a Republican president the next time they hold a Senate majority.
If a vacancy opened next year in a seat occupied by a Republican, though, all bets are off.
Faced with a GOP roadblock, I think it’d be interesting if Biden turned around and nominated Michelle Childs, a candidate whom Lindsey Graham said in February could “probably get more than 60 votes.” An African-American woman nominee who already enjoys the support of centrist Republicans would be politically painful for McConnell to thwart. But allowing the Senate to confirm any Democratic nominee at a moment when Republicans have the power to hold the seat open would also be painful politically. This is the problem elected officials in both parties face in 2022, that their bases crave ruthlessness whatever it might mean for national harmony. That’s almost certainly why Coons voted against Gorsuch.
Here’s the new justice-in-waiting celebrating today at the White House.
“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it … here in America, anything is possible” — Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson pic.twitter.com/GORDIDDThx
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 8, 2022