GOP ‘blockade’ of Judge Garland is an attack on democracy itself

The Septuagenarian Ninja Turtle, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (the reincarnation of John C. Calhoun), is imposing a “blockade” — an act of war — against the U.S. Constitution, the president, and the U.S. Supreme Court over the nomination of appellate court judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Sunday, the Turtle Man dismissed the talk of some in own party that Judge Garland could be considered during the lame duck session of Congress after Election Day in the event that the Democratic nominee wins the election and is likely to appoint a more liberal justice. Garland Shouldn’t Be Considered After Election, McConnell Says:

Cartoon_40The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, on Sunday dismissed the possibility of Republicans considering President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee after the November election, even if a Democrat were elected president or Republicans lost their majority.

In doing do, Mr. McConnell tried to shut the door on a scenario that some Republicans in the Senate have said could allow them to prevent a more liberal jurist than Mr. Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick B. Garland, from reaching the court, should a Democrat win the White House.

“That’s not going to happen,” Mr. McConnell said of such an arrangement on “Fox News Sunday.” “The principle is the same. Whether it’s before the election or after the election. The principle is the American people are choosing their next president, and their next president should pick this Supreme Court nominee.”

“I can’t imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association, the National Federation of Independent Business that represents small businesses,” Mr. McConnell said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I can’t imagine that a Republican-majority Senate, even if it were assumed to be a minority, would want to confirm a judge that would move the court dramatically to the left,” he added.

Mr. McConnell, of Kentucky, forcefully reiterated his position during interviews with four morning news shows, bringing a renewed vigor to the battle over a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia.

Ian Millhiser at Think Progress notes that Even George Will Thinks The GOP’s Wall of Opposition To Merrick Garland Is Nuts:

“Do Republicans really think Donald Trump will make a good Supreme Court choice?”

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Senate Republicans’ explanations for “their refusal to even consider Merrick B. Garland radiates insincerity,” according to Will. His party’s actions also risk holding the open seat on the Supreme Court vacant until “a stupendously uninformed dilettante” gains the power to make nominations. “If Republicans really think that either their front-runner or the Democrats’ would nominate someone superior to Garland, it would be amusing to hear them try to explain why they do,” Will rather archly concludes.

Will’s disagreement with the GOP’s just-say-no approach to Garland is especially significant because Will’s own view of the Constitution places him well to the right of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who Garland hopes to replace. Indeed, it probably places him well to the right of every single sitting member of the Supreme Court.

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Will would take the law in a radically different direction than Judge Garland, a moderate liberal well to Scalia’s left. Yet even Mr. Will appears to concede that it is time for Republicans to give up their opposition to Garland and take the offer that is on the table.

The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne explains his colleague, the patrician prevaricator for the Plutocracy, George Will, in The Supreme Court fight is about democracy:

There’s a reason beyond garden-variety partisanship that Senate Republicans resist even holding hearings on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Their gambit evades a full and open debate over the conservative judicial agenda, which is to use the high court in an aggressive and political way to reverse decades of progressive legislation.

The central irony here: The very conservatives who use “judicial activism” as a battering ram against liberals are now the aggressive judicial activists. It’s precisely because Garland’s record reveals him to be a devout practitioner of judicial restraint that an intellectually frank dialogue over his nomination would be so dangerous to the right. It would expose the radicalism of their jurisprudence.

Some conservatives are quite open about this, and few have been more candid than George F. Will, my Post colleague. To begin with, he deserves credit for making clear in his most recent column that Garland really is a stout advocate of judicial “deference” and for pointing out the absurdity of the Republicans’ refusal to take up his nomination. And in the past, Will has been unusually direct in defining the stakes in our battles over the role of the courts.

In a 2014 column aptly headlined “Judicial activism isn’t a bad thing,” he wrote: “Conservatives clamoring for judicial restraint, meaning deference to legislatures, are waving a banner unfurled a century ago by progressives eager to emancipate government, freeing it to pursue whatever collective endeavors it fancies, sacrificing individual rights to a spurious majoritarian ethic.”

Will’s attack on “a spurious majoritarian ethic,” of course, is another way of criticizing the workings of democracy. Where does this lead?

It leads to the Citizens United decision (which Will supports as emphatically as I oppose it) that overthrew decades of precedent and a century of practice involving limits on the power of big money in politics; to the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act; and to the scrapping of all manner of legislation aimed at protecting workers’ rights, the environment and consumers. Historically, it’s an approach that, more often than not, leans toward employers over employees, creditors over debtors, property owners over less affluent citizens, and corporations over individuals.

We know what this approach looks like because it’s the one the court pursued for decades before the New Deal. It is this pre-New Deal jurisprudence that conservatives want to bring back. [ See, George Will’s radical ‘litmus test’ for a return to the Lochner era]. Some conservatives have talked openly about the “Constitution in Exile,” referring to the way our founding document was once read to overturn many New Deal and Progressive Era laws. Starting in the late 1930s, the court moved to a different approach that gave Congress broad latitude to legislate on matters related to social justice and economics and saw its task as intervening primarily on behalf of individual rights.

Will’s outright embrace of “judicial activism” has brought him some critics on the right. One of them is Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a leading defender of the Senate Republicans’ current strategy. “Most contemporary conservative proponents of judicial restraint,” Whelan has written, “are also proponents of originalism and see judicial restraint merely as supplementing originalist methodology when that methodology fails to yield a sufficiently clear answer to a constitutional question.”

Whelan added that his approach would, like Will’s, allow judges to “enforce the rights, and limits on power, that the Constitution, fairly construed, sets forth.” But it would also “prevent judges from inventing rights and powers that are not in the Constitution.”

Here’s my translation of Whelan: He’s instructing Will to notice how originalism — the conservative theory that insists we can apply the original meaning of the Constitution’s words and the Founders’ intentions with some ease — leaves judges with plenty of power to toss out progressive laws. At the same time, it gives conservatives grounds to oppose liberals on such issues as abortion and gay marriage.

I’ll stipulate that there are some legitimate conservative arguments against liberals on their own forms of social-issue activism. But I’d insist that we will understand this court battle better if we pay attention to Will’s straightforward language: Through originalism and other doctrines, conservatives have embraced an astonishingly aggressive approach to judging. It allows them to reach outcomes through the courts that they cannot achieve through the democratic process.

At heart, this is a debate over how we define democracy. It’s also a struggle over whether government will be able to serve as a countervailing force to concentrated economic power.

3 responses to “GOP ‘blockade’ of Judge Garland is an attack on democracy itself

  1. The death of Scalia has upset the apple cart in the conservative world. The Court was all set to eliminate public unions in the US, thereby eliminating one of the last remaining centers of progressive money and support. Of course, if they win the presidency and keep control of the Congress, they might be able to accomplish this legislatively.

  2. Frances Perkins

    It is hard to comprehend the regressive attitude of McConnell and other Senate Neanderthals. Can you imagine what the right would do if the Senate was Democratic and they blocked EVERY republican appointee in the last year of say a George W. Bush administration? I recall Mcconnell screaming for “an up or down vote”, when the shoe was on the other foot. If this is the stance then EVERY Senate Republican running for election in 2016 should abstain from EVERY Senate vote until January 2016, including the senile Budweiser distributor.

  3. captain*arizona

    I prefer wendy davis on the supreme court anyway.