With Gorsuch confirmed, McConnell gets away with stealing a seat
Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives to talk to the media after a weekly Senate Republican luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 10, 2016.
In the wake of Senate Republicans changing the chamber’s rules yesterday through the nuclear option, the outcome of today’s floor vote was a foregone conclusion, but it nevertheless marked the end of dejecting process.
The Senate confirmed judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court Friday in a mostly party-line 54-45 vote that reflected weeks of bruising political fighting which deepened congressional divides and changed the nature of high court appointments in the future.
Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first major court nominee, will fill the seat that has been vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February of 2016. He will be officially sworn in on Monday morning.
Shortly before this morning’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters, “As I look back on my career, I think the most consequential decision I’ve ever been involved in was the decision to let the president being elected last year pick the Supreme Court nominee.”
I’m very much inclined to agree. After Justice Antonin Scalia died, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a center-left, compromise jurist to fill the vacancy, which opened the door to a historic opportunity, unseen in a generation: the Supreme Court could finally stop drifting towards the right. McConnell instead decided to impose an unprecedented high-court blockade, gambling that Americans may elect a Republican president and Republican Congress.
The gamble was very “consequential,” indeed. McConnell stole a Supreme Court seat from one administration and handed it to another. Instead of a center-left judge working alongside a conservative minority on the court, we’ll have yet another conservative majority – this time with Neil Gorsuch, who is only 49, and who’s likely to serve as many as four decades.
Last year, McConnell declared, “One of my proudest moments was when I told Obama, ‘You will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.’” It’s the kind of pride one feels when they steal something and know they’ve gotten away with it.
Circling back to our coverage from December, I tend to think of this story as a scandal that’s never really fully been appreciated as one. Just after the election, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that Senate Republicans’ treatment of a qualified, moderate jurist was effectively a political crime. A Supreme Court seat, the Oregon senator argued, was “stolen from the Obama administration and the construct of our Constitution. And it’s being delivered to an administration that has no right to fill it.” The American people, Merkley added, need to “understand that this is the theft of the court.”
Today, the robber breathed a sigh of relief.
The funny thing is, for months, the GOP gambit looked like the boneheaded political strategy of the decade. When McConnell and Senate Republicans launched their blockade, they assumed a Republican would win the White House – an assumption that started to appear ridiculous when GOP voters nominated a clownish reality-show personality. McConnell, to borrow Merkley’s analogy, was stealing a Supreme Court seat from one Democratic president, only to hand it to another Democratic president he hated even more.
Today, however, we know better. The consequences will be felt for generations.
Postscript: One of the takeaways from this fight should be a wake-up call to many on the left: it’s time to start prioritizing the courts as much as the right already does. If Jill Stein’s voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, for example, had supported the Democratic ticket, there’d very likely be a 5-4 center-left majority on the Supreme Court today, not a 5-4 conservative majority.
What’s more, this may get much worse before it gets better. Donald Trump has now added one justice to the high court, and the Republican believes he may soon add three more.