McConnell Would Fill Court Vacancy in 2020

Hypocritical? Sure. Surprising? No.

Shocking no one, the Senate Majority Leader confirmed yesterday that he would not repeat the Merrick Garland gambit were a Supreme Court vacancy emerge during the next presidential election year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday if a Supreme Court vacancy occurs during next year’s presidential election, he would work to confirm a nominee appointed by President Donald Trump.

That’s a move that is in sharp contrast to his decision to block President Barack Obama’s nominee to the high court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

At the time, he cited the right of the voters in the presidential election to decide whether a Democrat or a Republican would fill that opening, a move that infuriated Democrats.

Speaking at a Paducah Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky, McConnell was asked by an attendee, “Should a Supreme Court justice die next year, what will your position be on filling that spot?”

The leader took a long sip of what appeared to be iced tea before announcing with a smile, “Oh, we’d fill it,” triggering loud laughter from the audience.

I mean, of course he would.

How does he justify abandoning the pretense that the Garland move was based on principle?

David Popp, a spokesman for McConnell, said the difference between now and three years ago, when McConnell famously blocked Judge Merrick Garland’s ascension to the Supreme Court, is that at that time the White House was controlled by a Democrat and the Senate by Republicans. This time, both are controlled by the GOP.

Well . . . yeah. But that’s the opposite of a principle. That’s craven partisanship.

Even though I didn’t vote for Barack Obama, I thought he deserved to fill the vacant seat. Scalia died on February 13 and Garland was appointed on March 16. The election was still eight months away and Obama had another ten months left in his second term.

Given that Republicans controlled the Senate, I would have supported their being hard-nosed about Scalia being replaced by a radically leftist jurist. But Garland is a moderate and, frankly, a little on the old side. Denying him a vote was simply unconscionable—although well within the prerogative of the Senate.

Additionally, I can see an argument for the Senate not confirming a Justice during the lame duck session, particularly if the election resulted in a change in partisan control of the White House. But, of course, if Trump is defeated in November McConnell and company would rush to fill a vacancy before, say, a President Biden took office.

Update (Doug Mataconis): As it turns out, James and I were both working on a post on this issue at the same time. You can find my post at this link.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts, Supreme Court, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    It’s not exactly useful to judge McConnell’s ethics. People who back Dennison don’t have any ethical standards.

  2. mattbernius says:

    When all is said and done and historians and political scientists are writing the history of the last few decades in American Politics, I have to think that McConnell will be increasingly seen as the single most important Republican at the national level in terms of fundamentally transforming the Federal Government.

    He might be the most impactful Senator of the the last 100 years.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius:

    the single most important Republican at the national level in terms of fundamentally transforming the Federal Government.

    He might be the most impactful Senator of the the last 100 years

    Certainly, he’s had a huge impact on the judiciary, by running out the clock on legions of Obama appointees and then ramming through Trump’s. And he’s pushed the ball further than Harry Reid did—which is saying something—in overall obstructionism.

    At the same time, it’s hard to think of a signature legislative accomplishment.

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  4. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    At the same time, it’s hard to think of a signature legislative accomplishment.

    Maybe obstruction was the goal.

  5. Andrew says:

    McConnell’s legacy will be the sale of America. He would have been John Rockefeller’s wet dream if he was only 100 years younger. Though maybe Mitch was there then? Tortoise live long lives.
    Mitch sold out the federal government for greed. He only obstructed when there would be a check on this greed.
    Plain and simple. Covered in the flag, McConnell helped this country move into even more so of an oligarchy. While sucking on the teet of his masters. See: Russian Aluminum plant being built in Kentucky.

  6. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    At the same time, it’s hard to think of a signature legislative accomplishment.

    Agreed.

    Though perhaps it also indicates that McConnell has accelerated a transformation that had already started to shift the Senate away from being a legislation creator towards being an inhibitor (to your point about the previous Majority Leader’s role in slowing down legislation).

  7. Jay L Gischer says:

    @mattbernius:

    I have to think that McConnell will be increasingly seen as the single most important Republican at the national level in terms of fundamentally transforming the Federal Government.

    I said this to my wife about a month ago. Big, big changes.